Medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits go through several phases before the case is submitted to a jury at trial. Two of the most important pre-trial phases are the discovery phase and the summary judgment stage. The discovery phase is where the parties exchange relevant information to the case that the opposing party may not have or know to exist. Certain discovery, even of unfavorable information, is mandatory.

medical instrumentsThe summary judgment stage is where either party can ask the court to enter judgment on a case before the case is submitted to a jury. In order for a judge to determine whether summary judgment is appropriate, she looks at all the evidence and determines if either party is legally entitled to judgment in their favor. This is only the case when there are no “issues of material fact,” meaning that there are no legal issues that can be resolved in favor of the non-moving party that could result in that party’s victory.

Defendant’s Summary Judgment in Medical Malpractice Case Reversed on Appeal

In a recent case in front of the Indiana Supreme Court, the court corrected a lower court’s error in granting summary judgment to a defendant when it was not legally appropriate. In the case, Siner v. Kindred Hospital Limited Partnership, the plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a women who died a short time after being treated at the defendant hospital. The plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, claiming that the poor treatment at the defendant’s hospital resulted in the death of their loved one.

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A state appellate court in Maine recently handed down a decision that demonstrates the importance of meeting deadlines and other procedural requirements when making a personal injury or wrongful death claim, especially when the claim is against a state or municipality. The plaintiff in the case of Deschenes v. The City of Sanford was a man who claims that he was injured when he fell down a dangerous staircase at the Sanford City Hall. After his accident, the plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city, seeking damages for his injuries. Although the plaintiff gave oral notice to the city regarding his fall and his request for compensation, he did not provide formal written notice of his claim until after the six-month deadline in Maine for providing such notice.

Alarm ClockThe City of Sanford Succeeds in Disposing of the Case

At the district court, the City of Sanford argued that the plaintiff did not properly follow the procedures to sue a government entity in the state of Maine, and that the claim must be dismissed. Specifically, the city argued that Maine’s sovereign immunity act required that cities and towns be notified of negligence claims against them within 180 days of an accident.

Although the plaintiff notified the city in person shortly after the accident, both the district court and the state supreme court ruled that such notice was not sufficient under the statute, and that the plaintiff’s claim must be dismissed. Based on the Maine Supreme Court’s ruling that affirmed the lower court order, the plaintiff will be unable to recover any damages as a result of the city’s alleged negligence that caused his injuries.

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Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of fatal traffic accidents in Indiana. In fact, so far this year there have been over 5,500 alcohol-related car accidents in Indiana alone. Of those, roughly 2,300 have resulted in injury, and 205 have resulted in death. These figures represent about one-third of all traffic accidents in the entire state.

Beer BottlesWith drunk driving being such a problem in Indiana, the Indiana Legislature took action and passed a Dram Shop Act. Indiana’s Dram Shop Act serves to hold an establishment financially liable when they serve a patron to the point of intoxication, and then that patron causes a car accident. Dram Shop Act cases are most commonly brought against bars but can also be brought against restaurants and even social hosts who provide alcohol to someone who was already visibly intoxicated.

A Recent Example of a Dram Shop Act Case

In Massachusetts, an appellate court recently heard an appeal from a defendant restaurant owner after it was determined by the lower court that the case could proceed to trial. In Bayless v. TTS Trio Corporation, the plaintiff was a woman who lost her father in a single-vehicle car accident after he left the defendant’s restaurant.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Maryland issued a written opinion in a case involving allegations that a cement company was negligent in the hiring of an independent contractor. In the case, Perry v. Asphalt & Concrete Services, Inc., the court ultimately decided that the plaintiff should not have been permitted to submit evidence of the truck driver’s lack of insurance unless the plaintiff was able to show that the lack of insurance was relevant to the negligent hiring claim.

tipper-417147_960_720The Facts of the Case

Back in 2009, the plaintiff, Perry, was crossing the street when he was struck by a dump truck. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered broken ribs as well as head trauma. After physically recovering from his injuries, Perry filed a negligence lawsuit against the truck’s driver, the trucking company, and the concrete company that hired the driver. Specific to the later claim, Perry asserted that the concrete company (ACS) negligently hired the driver, and that the company should be responsible for his injuries due to their negligence.

At trial, Perry tried to introduce evidence that the truck driver did not have insurance at the time of the accident. The court allowed the evidence to be considered by the jury, which found in favor of the plaintiff after hearing it. The total verdict amount was $529,500, including $500,000 for pain and suffering. Not satisfied with the court’s rulings on several evidentiary issues, ACS appealed.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Utah issued an opinion in an interesting case considering the age at which young children can be held legally responsible for their own negligent actions. In the case, Neilsen v. Bell, the court was not provided the opportunity to consider whether the parents were liable, and it had to look solely at the individual liability of the young child.

tricycle-691587_960_720The Facts of the Case

The case arose when the Bells’ four-year-old son injured his babysitter. According to the court’s written opinion, Neilsen was the woman the Bells chose to watch their son while they were away. On the day of the incident, the four-year-old boy threw a toy at Neilsen’s face, striking her in the eye. This ultimately caused her to completely lose sight in that eye.

Neilsen filed a lawsuit against the boy and his parents. The first claim alleged that the parents were negligent in their supervision of the child. This claim failed in the lower court, most likely since the child was in the plaintiff’s control at the time of the incident, and she agreed to assume care of the boy.

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Earlier this month, the Indiana Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case involving a woman who broke her leg while crossing a street. In the case, City of Beech Grove v. Beloat, the court determined that the city was not entitled to governmental immunity because the act of maintaining the road was not “discretionary,” as defined by the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

crosswalk-1215669The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was walking from her home in the City of Beech Grove to the library, when she briefly stepped out of the crosswalk to avoid a parked car. As she did so, she heard a snap and realized that her foot was caught in a hole in the pavement. She remained there until two bystanders helped her out. When she was taken to the hospital a short time later, it was discovered that she had suffered a broken leg. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city.

In response, the city claimed that it was entitled to immunity from the lawsuit based on the Indiana Tort Claims Act, which grants immunity to the government and government employees when they are performing a discretionary function. The trial court denied the city’s motion to dismiss the case on this ground, and the city appealed.

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Earlier this month, a North Dakota appellate court issued a written opinion finding that a county fairground was not legally responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries sustained during a free fireworks display. The court based its decision on the state’s “recreational use statute.”

fireworks-01-1538318The Facts of Woody v. Pembina County Annual Fair & Exhibition Association

The plaintiff in the case, Woody, was injured when she was attending a free fireworks display at her local fairground. Evidently, while Woody was looking for a seat to enjoy the show, she stepped on a rotted board and fell through the grandstand. As a result of her fall, she sustained serious injuries.

Woody filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Fair, alleging that the Fair’s negligence in failing to maintain the grandstands resulted in her injury. Prior to the beginning of the trial, the parties agreed to the facts, and the Fair asked the court to dismiss the case because it was entitled to immunity from the lawsuit, based on the state’s recreational use statute. The court determined that the Fair, as a non-profit and tax-exempt organization that opened up its land for the use and enjoyment of the general public at no charge, was entitled to immunity. Thus, Woody’s case was dismissed.

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Earlier last month, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia released an opinion regarding an incident of road rage that went too far, resulting in serious injury to one of the drivers involved. In the case, Phillips v. Stear, the court reversed a lower court’s opinion that had found that the plaintiff failed to make out his case against the defendant.

driving-933281_960_720The Accident

The accident that gave rise to the case occurred back in December 2010. According to court documents, the plaintiff and the defendant were both traveling in the same direction on the highway when the defendant swerved in front of the plaintiff, applied quick pressure to the brakes, and then made an obscene hand gesture toward the plaintiff. As a result of the rapid slow-down in front of him, the plaintiff truck driver also applied the brakes. However, as he did so, he lost control of the truck and crashed it off the side of the road.

A witness to the accident followed the defendant as he fled the scene, relaying the driver’s license plate information to the police. The police conducted a brief investigation and shortly thereafter located the defendant and issued a citation for an improper lane change. The defendant paid the ticket.

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When a party takes a case to trial and does not get the result they had hoped for, they can sometimes appeal the lower court’s decision to an appellate court to have the case reviewed. Most states, including Indiana, have three levels of courts: trial, intermediate appellate, and supreme. As the name implies, the trial court is where a trial takes place. If a party is not satisfied with a ruling, they may appeal to the intermediate appellate court. If that court finds against the party again, they can file another appeal in the state supreme court. In some very limited and specific circumstances, a party may be able to make one final appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

gavel-1017953_960_720A court, however, will not hear any issue merely because a party was not satisfied with the ultimate result; there must be some legal issue that is the basis of the appeal. Often, these are evidentiary rulings made by the trial judge.

Trial judges are supposed to follow rules of evidence, which dictate what kinds of evidence are admissible at trial. If evidence that was not supposed to be considered by the jurors is put before the jury, that may result in reversible error. Similarly, if a judge prevents a party from admitting evidence that should have been admitted, that too can qualify as reversible error. However, a party almost always has to “preserve” the error by objecting when the adverse ruling is made.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued an opinion in a case that began when a truck carrying a large piece of logging equipment got too close to the side of a bridge as it crossed. The logging equipment came free, ultimately crashing into a passing car. The specific issue in the case was whether the truck driver’s employer could be held liable in addition to the truck driver himself. The employer was responsible for traveling across the bridge in front of the truck to make sure that no oncoming motorists crossed at the same time the truck was crossing.

silver-jubilee-bridge-402943_960_720Brown v. Davis: An Employer Fails to Ensure the Road is Clear

When the wife of the man who was killed in the accident filed a lawsuit against the truck driver and his employer, the truck driver admitted that he was negligent. However, the employer denied that he was legally responsible for the man’s death. The case went to trial, and the jury ultimately awarded the plaintiff a $3 million verdict.

The defendant appealed to the intermediate appellate court, arguing that he owed no duty to the motorist, and even if it was determined that there was a duty owed, he did not breach that duty. The court disagreed and affirmed the lower court’s verdict. The defendant appealed again.

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