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Earlier last month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case upholding a lower court’s decision to grant the plaintiff a new trial after newly discovered evidence showed that the defendant may be liable for her loved one’s death. In upholding the lower court’s decision, the court denied the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff’s failure to pay a mandatory filing fee deprived the court of the power to issue the new trial.

Wall ClockThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a patient who had been left quadriplegic after being treated by the defendant hospital. Shortly after the patient’s diagnosis, he filed a lawsuit against the hospital, claiming it was responsible for his condition. After a jury trial, it was determined that the hospital’s negligence was not the cause of his quadriplegia. Shortly after trial, the patient died.

After the patient’s death, the plaintiff discovered additional evidence suggesting the defendant’s actions were the cause of her loved one’s quadriplegia and subsequent death. The plaintiff petitioned the court for a new trial. A required part of that petition was the payment of a filing fee. The plaintiff filed the petition on time but failed to pay the filing fee.

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Earlier this month, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a written opinion affirming an $11 million jury verdict in a product liability case brought by a man who was injured while using a ladder manufactured by the defendant. The defendant’s appeal involved evidentiary challenges to the plaintiff’s two expert witnesses as well as a challenge to the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s claim.

LadderThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a homeowner who was using a ladder manufactured by the defendant to replace some rusted screws in the gutter above his garage. As the plaintiff was making the repairs, the ladder buckled under his weight, sending him to the ground. The plaintiff struck his head on the ground and suffered bleeding in the frontal lobe of his brain as a result. The bleeding caused the plaintiff to suffer from seizures, dementia, and quadriplegia.

The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the defendant manufacturer. At trial, the plaintiff presented two witnesses whose collective testimony established that the ladder was not fit to support a 200-pound user and that the plaintiff had been using the ladder in an appropriate manner at the time of the accident. The defendant objected to the admission of the experts’ testimony on several grounds, but the trial court allowed the experts’ testimony.

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Earlier this month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard a case requiring the court to determine if a lower court properly denied the plaintiff the opportunity to submit her claim for punitive damages to the jury. Ultimately, the court determined that the lower court improperly ruled that the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages failed as a matter of law. As a result, the decision of whether the plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages will be made by a jury, rather than a judge.

Shower HeadCourts Determine Many Threshold Issues Before Submitting a Case to a Jury

In any personal injury case, before the plaintiff’s claims are put in front of a jury, a judge makes several threshold determinations as to the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff’s case. If a judge determines that one or all of a plaintiff’s claims fail as a matter of law, those claims will be dismissed, and the plaintiff will not have the opportunity to present the legally insufficient claims to a jury.

A Judge Improperly Determined the Plaintiff Was Not Entitled to Punitive Damages

In the recent case mentioned above, a woman was seriously injured when she was exiting the shower at the defendant’s hotel. After the accident, a hotel employee came up to see what had occurred and explained to the woman that the shower door had come off its runners. This allowed the door to slam into the wall when the woman opened it, causing the door to shatter.

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Late this month, an appellate court in Ohio issued an interesting decision involving the limits of a local government’s immunity from personal injury lawsuits involving claims that the government failed to maintain a public road. In the case, Bibler v. Stevenson, the court determined that a local government was not entitled to immunity when it allowed a stop sign to become overgrown with brush, resulting in a motorist running the stop sign and striking the plaintiff.

ForestThe Facts of the Case

Back in 2011, Bibler was driving through an intersection when he was struck by another motorist who had run a stop sign. When asked by police what happened, the other motorist explained that she had not seen the stop sign. The officer then investigated the motorist’s claim and agreed that the stop sign was obstructed by overgrown foliage.

Bibler filed a lawsuit against the other driver as well as the city where the intersection was located. Bibler eventually settled with the other driver out of court, and the case against the city proceeded toward trial. However, the trial judge dismissed the case against the city, explaining that the city was presumptively entitled to government immunity, and Bibler failed to establish an exception. Bibler appealed.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in Alaska issued a written opinion in a personal injury case affirming a trial court’s decision to deny the plaintiff’s post-trial motion after a jury found in favor of the defendant. In the case, Long v. Arnold, the court held that the trial court’s jury instructions properly summed up the applicable law and that the lower court was correct to deny the plaintiff’s post-trial motion. The case illustrates how important it is for a personal injury attorney to diligently and aggressively argue that fair instructions be provided to the jury before it is sent back to deliberate.

Car in DitchThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case, Long, was driving her car on an Alaska road when the defendant pulled out in front of her, cutting her off. As a result of the defendant’s sudden decision to pull in front of her, Long steered her car off the side of the road and into some roadside bushes. Evidence presented at trial suggested Long was traveling at about 10 miles per hour at the time of the accident. Her car naturally came to a stop without hitting any stationary object.

Initially, Long did not believe that she had suffered any injury as a result of the accident. However, two days later while on a flight, she discovered that her back was bothering her. She then filed a personal injury claim against the driver of the vehicle who had cut her off.

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Last month, an appellate court in Michigan issued an opinion in a premises liability case, finding that the trial court was correct in granting summary judgment to the defendant, due to the plaintiff’s failure to present evidence of a required element of her claim. In the case, Lowrey v. LMPS & LMPJ, the court held that the burden is on the plaintiff to present evidence of each element of a claim,and the plaintiff’s failure to show that the defendant had knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused her fall required the dismissal of the case.

Rolled AnkleThe Facts

Lowrey was visiting the defendant restaurant on a snowy evening. On her way out of the restaurant, Lowrey slipped and fell on the steps leading into the parking lot, breaking two bones in her leg. Lowrey testified that she had traveled up and down the steps several times that night safely, but when she fell at the end of the night, the steps were wet and slick. She also testified that several other people had fallen on the steps that night. Lowrey filed a premises liability case against the restaurant, claiming it should be held responsible for her injuries, due to the restaurant’s negligence in maintaining the steps.

The defendant asked the trial court to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiff failed to present any evidence that the restaurant knew about the dangerous condition. The trial court agreed and granted the defendant’s motion. Lowrey appealed.

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Government immunity is a concept that is present in almost all personal injury cases that name a government entity or employee as a defendant. Even in cases in which the plaintiff ultimately recovers compensation for their injuries after settlement negotiations or a trial, it is likely that the plaintiff had to overcome the issue of government immunity at some point in the lawsuit. Thus, the issue of government immunity is critical for all would-be plaintiffs to understand before filing a lawsuit against a state, local, or federal government agency.

IntersectionDesign Immunity in Indiana

One type of government immunity involves a government’s design of highways, roads, and intersections. This is called design immunity. Design immunity does not cover a government’s failure to properly maintain a road, but instead it covers a government’s decisions on how to construct a road.

In Indiana, governments are generally entitled to immunity regarding their discretionary functions. Arguably, many road construction projects will be deemed discretionary by the courts, eliminating a government’s liability. Regardless, governments are entitled to immunity from any lawsuit stemming from the design of a highway, road, or intersection if the claim arises more than 20 years after the project was constructed. A recent case illustrates how a court may apply design immunity to extinguish an accident victim’s right to recovery.

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In a recent case in front of the Supreme Court of Alabama, the court dismissed a plaintiff’s personal injury case that he had filed against the company he claimed was responsible for insuring him. In the case, Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange v. Grayson, the court determined that the jury verdict below in favor of the insurance company should stand. As a result of the most recent decision, the plaintiff’s case will not be permitted to proceed against the insurance company.

Car AccidentThe Facts of the Case

Grayson was injured in a motorcycle accident that was caused by an uninsured motorist. Rather than sue the uninsured motorist, Grayson filed a claim with his own insurance company under the uninsured motorist provision. He obtained the policy limit of $50,000.

Grayson also filed a claim with his brother-in-law’s insurance company, Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange (PURE), seeking additional compensation above and beyond that which was paid by his own insurance policy. While Grayson acknowledged that he was not named on the PURE policy, he argued that he was residing with his sister and brother-in-law at the time of the accident, and therefore he should be covered under the policy.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who slipped and fell on some loose stones outside a home improvement store. In the case, Piotrowski v. Menard, the court ultimately held that the plaintiff’s bare-bones assertion that the stones’ presence could have been due to the negligence of a store employee was insufficient to survive summary judgement, and the case was dismissed.

GravelThe Facts of the Case

Piotrowski was shopping at the defendant’s home improvement store with her husband when she slipped and fell outside the store’s entrance, fracturing her elbow. After she got up from her fall, she noticed that two small stones had caused her to lose her balance. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store, claiming that they were negligent in either creating the dangerous condition (the loose stones) or failing to remedy a known dangerous condition.

At the summary judgment proceeding, evidence was presented that not far from where Piotrowski fell, there was a planter filled with river rock. A store manager testified that store employees would occasionally have to refill the planter with river rock because the level of rock in the planter would decrease over time. One witness testified that children would play in the planter and occasionally inadvertently track the small rocks out with them as they left the planter.

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Earlier this month in Chattanooga, Tennessee, six students were killed in a bus accident that has left many families with unanswered questions. According to a local news report covering the devastating accident, the bus was not on its scheduled route when the driver lost control and crashed into a tree, literally bending the bus in half. In all, six students died in the accident, and dozens of others were injured.

Bus AisleAfter the accident, the driver called his mother to explain that he had just been involved in an accident and that several children were dead. However, he did not call 911. Police arrested the driver, a 24-year-old man who had obtained his commercial driver’s license just over six months ago, and charged him with several counts of vehicular homicide, recklessly endangering another person, and reckless driving. Police told reporters that the school bus was traveling “well above” the posted speed limit at the time of the accident. Some are suggesting that the driver was potentially driving the bus while drowsy, having worked an overnight shift at another job the day before.

The driver also had a tumultuous relationship with the students aboard the bus. Several students had written to school officials complaining of the driver’s dangerous driving habits, and some students even claimed he intentionally swerved to make students fall out of their seats. The driver had also complained about the students, telling school administrators that the students refused to listen to him while he was operating the bus.

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