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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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Last month, a Mississippi court issued an opinion in a truck accident case brought by a man who was injured in a chain-reaction accident when he rear-ended another vehicle that was stopped in a traffic jam caused by the original accident. In the case, Ready v. RWI Transportation, the court held that the second accident was too far removed from the first to establish liability against the truck driver. The court based its opinion not on a causation analysis, as one might expect, but instead on the holding that the truck driver did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care.

Semi-TruckThe Facts of the Case

The defendant truck driver caused an accident on a Mississippi highway when he changed lanes and collided with another vehicle. The accident significantly slowed passing traffic, causing a back-up leading up to the scene of the accident.

The plaintiff was driving on the highway toward the accident at approximately 65-70 miles per hour. As he approached the line of stopped vehicles, he was unable to stop and crashed into the rear of another vehicle. The plaintiff sustained injuries as a result of the crash and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the truck driver. He also named the truck driver’s employer under the theory of “negligent entrustment.”

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Many personal injury cases require the testimony of at least one expert witness. Expert witnesses are used to establish certain facts that are beyond the common knowledge of lay witnesses. For example, in medical malpractice cases, expert witnesses are commonly used to explain to the jury what the standard procedures are in certain medical situations.

GavelThe selection of an expert witness is critical for several reasons. First, a selected expert should appear credible to both the judge and the jury, rather than looking like a “hired gun.” After all, many personal injury cases come down to a “battle of the experts,” in which each side has competing experts offering diametrically opposed opinions on the same subject. Second, an attorney should have a fairly good idea of what an expert’s opinion will be before retaining that expert. A party’s failure to know what an expert’s opinion will likely be can result in wasted time and expense. Furthermore, as a recent case indicates, careless expert selection can potentially provide favorable evidence to the opposing party.

Malashock v. Jamison:  The Defendant Seeks to Depose the Plaintiff’s Unused Expert

Malashock was injured in an accident involving the utility vehicle he was operating. He filed a personal injury lawsuit against the company that sold him the vehicle. Before the trial began, Malashock identified several expert witnesses by name and indicated the subject of their testimony. At no point was any of the experts’ reports provided to the defense.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Kentucky issued an opinion in a premises liability case brought by a man who slipped and fell while staying as a guest in the defendant hotel. In the case, Goodwin v. Al J. Schneider, the court had the opportunity to discuss the duty of care hotels owe to their guests, ultimately holding that the hotel did owe Goodwin a duty to keep him safe from both known and unknown hazards.

Hotel RoomThe Facts of the Case

Goodwin and his wife were staying at the defendant hotel during a conference. On the second night of their stay, Goodwin attempted to get into the shower but slipped and fell, injuring his leg. Goodwin brought a premises liability lawsuit against the hotel, arguing that the hotel was negligent in failing to take sufficient measures to prevent slip-and-fall accidents while getting into the shower.

Specifically, Goodwin pointed to the fact that there was not a bathmat in the shower, and other rooms in the hotel did have bathmats. He acknowledged that the shower had a hand rail to assist guests in getting into the shower, but he argued that the failure to place a bathmat in the shower was a violation of the duty of care the hotel owed him, and this breach of duty resulted in his fall.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in Louisiana issued a written opinion invalidating an arbitration clause in a case brought by the parents of a young child who was injured while at the defendant’s trampoline park. In the case, Alicea v. Activelaf, the court held that although the plaintiff voluntarily signed a contract containing a clause agreeing to arbitration, the clause was invalid, and therefore the defendant cannot demand arbitration.

Kids on TrampolineA Young Boy Is Injured While at the Defendant’s Trampoline Park

The Aliceas planned on taking their two young boys to the defendant’s trampoline park. However, prior to allowing anyone access to the park, the defendant required that guests sign a “Participant Agreement, Release and Assumption of Risk.” This is common among pay-to-play activities, such as bungee jumping, water parks, and ski resorts. Essentially, these forms, if signed, give up certain rights the guest would otherwise have. Specific to this case, the contract contained a clause waiving the plaintiffs’ right to use the court system if any personal injury claims should arise during their visit. Instead of proceeding through court, the contract stated that the claims would be settled through arbitration.

Arbitration is an alternative to the court system, in which a single arbitrator or panel of arbitrators will make a decision on a plaintiff’s personal injury claim. Arbitration is usually binding, is much cheaper for sophisticated litigants, and tends to favor the companies that seek to compel it. Whenever possible, it is usually in a plaintiff’s interest to have a case filed in a court of law rather than through arbitration.

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