Articles Posted in Personal Injury Litigation

Whenever someone is involved in an accident, certain duties are triggered. One of those duties is to preserve any evidence that may become useful to the opposing party in the event that a lawsuit is later filed by the accident victim. A party’s failure to preserve material evidence can result in a variety of sanctions being imposed against that party, including the judge entering judgment in favor of the opposing party. A recent case in front of a federal court of appeals illustrates this concept.

Schaefer v. Universal Scaffolding:  The Facts

The plaintiff, Schaefer, was a construction worker who routinely worked with scaffolding. On the day in question, a piece of scaffolding came loose and struck Schaefer in the head, causing serious injuries. Schaefer filed a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the scaffolding, as well as related claims against his own employer as well as the company that contracted the work to be done. Relevant to this case was Schaefer’s claim against the manufacturer of the scaffolding.

Before the trial began, Schaefer was informed that the actual piece of scaffolding that struck him in the head was no longer in the possession of the defendant. Believing this evidence to be crucial to his case, Schaefer asked the court to enter judgment in his favor because the evidence had been in the sole control of the defendant, and it was their duty to preserve it. Schaefer claimed that it was reasonably foreseeable that he would have filed a product liability claim against the manufacturer, and that triggered a duty to preserve the evidence.

Continue reading

Last month, an appellate court in California issued an interesting opinion regarding when a negligent driver’s employer can also be held liable in a personal injury lawsuit. In the case, Jorge v. Culinary Institute of America, the court ultimately determined that since the fatal accident occurred while the defendant’s employee was on his way home from work and was not engaged in any work-related activity, the defendant was not vicariously liable for the employee’s actions.

The Facts of the Case

Da Fonseca worked for the defendant, the Culinary Institute of America. He was an instructor who worked primarily at one location but occasionally did some consulting for the defendant at various other locations. On the day of the accident, Jorge was his way home from work with his chef’s jacket and knives in the car. At some point on his commute back home, he struck and killed Jorge, a 14-year-old boy, with his car.

Jorge’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both Da Fonseca and the Culinary Institute. Da Fonseca and Jorge’s family reached a mutually acceptable settlement agreement, so the case proceeded only against the Culinary Institute. The Institute’s request to dismiss the case based on a lack of vicarious liability was denied, and after a jury trial, a verdict of roughly $885,000 was awarded to Jorge’s family.

Continue reading

Good Samaritan laws were designed to protect passersby from liability when they try to help an injured person during an emergency. The idea is that if the law fails to offer protection to someone trying to help another person in peril, citizens are unlikely to ever offer such assistance for fear of civil liability. However, the type of conduct that is covered by a Good Samaritan law is not always clear.

In a recent case in front of one state’s appellate court, the court had the opportunity to interpret that state’s Good Samaritan law. Interestingly, the court broadly interpreted the law to include a wide range of actors and a wide range of conduct.

Carter v. Reese:  The Facts

Carter, a truck driver, had arrived at his destination and unloaded his trailer at the loading dock. After he was finished, he pulled his trailer a few inches away from the loading dock and put the air brake on so that the truck would stay put. Carter then got out of the truck to head back inside through the loading dock doors. However, as he climbed up onto the loading dock, he fell and got his leg stuck in the small gap between the truck and the loading dock. Carter began calling for help, and Reese responded.

Continue reading

While some accidents only involve one plaintiff and one defendant, others involve multiple defendants. This can create an issue when it comes to determining which defendants are responsible for compensating the plaintiff in the event of a plaintiff’s verdict. Jurisdictions around the country have different methods of determining how defendants are required to compensate a plaintiff when there are several at-fault defendants, some of whom may not be present at all or may not be able to afford to compensate the plaintiff.

There are two basic methods that states use to determine which defendants are responsible for compensating the plaintiff. Under one method, called “joint and several liability,” any defendant found to be at fault can be held completely responsible for any and all damages the plaintiff suffered. This is a very plaintiff-friendly rule because it allows for a plaintiff to seek full recovery from just one defendant, if the other defendants are either not present or unable to pay. A defendant that ends up paying for other defendants’ shares can then sometimes seek compensation on their own through what is called “contribution.”

The other manner in which courts split up liability is called “several liability,” under which a defendant is only held responsible for their own percentage of fault. For example, if a defendant was 20% at fault, and the total damages suffered by the plaintiff were $1 million, the defendant would be only responsible for up to $200,000. Indiana uses this method. A recent case in front of an Arizona appellate court illustrates how several liability can play out in the real world.

Continue reading

Earlier this month, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an interesting opinion illuminating the jurisdictional issues that can arise in personal injury cases. In the case, Hodge v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, the plaintiff was a woman who was injured when she was struck by a vehicle insured by State Farm.

After the accident, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit in a district court. In Michigan, as in Indiana and many other states, the court system is broken down according to several factors, one of which is the “amount in controversy,” or the amount sought by the plaintiff. In this case, the plaintiff was seeking $25,000, which was the upper limit of a Michigan district court.

At trial, the plaintiff presented evidence of damages far in excess of the $25,000. State Farm attempted to prevent the plaintiff from presenting this evidence, arguing that it wasn’t proper because the limit she could recover was $25,000. The court denied the request and allowed all of the plaintiff’s evidence of injuries. After the trial, she was awarded roughly $85,000, and the court then reduced the recovery amount to the jurisdictional limit of $25,000.

Continue reading

Earlier this month, a West Virginia court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a man who suffered a shoulder injury when he fell after leaning on what turned out to be a damaged handrail. The court in the case of Wheeling Park Commission v. Dattoli determined that the injured man’s case against the park was incomplete in that the man failed to submit any evidence regarding the duty the park had to maintain the handrail.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and his wife were visiting the park to attend a concert. Since there was no seating available when they arrived, they ended up standing near a fence that protected visitors from inadvertently falling down a nearby hill. The plaintiff, looking for a place to lean, quickly visually inspected a handrail on the fence and then placed his weight against it. As he did so, the rail snapped at both ends, causing the plaintiff to fall down the hill. As a result of the fall, the man suffered a rotator cuff injury requiring surgery and months of physical therapy.

The plaintiff and his wife filed a premises liability lawsuit against the park, arguing that the park’s management was negligent for failing to keep the park safe. Specifically, they argued that it was negligent to allow the handrail to decay to such an extent that the weight of a single person leaning up against it could cause the rail to break.

Continue reading

Earlier this month, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Pittman v. Rivera, holding that a bar owner was not liable under a theory of negligence when one of the bar’s patrons struck another customer after being kicked out for being aggressive. The court based its decision on a lack of foreseeability at the time the bar’s management kicked out the at-fault patron.

Pittman v. Rivera

Pittman was struck by Rivera’s vehicle after Rivera was kicked out of the defendant’s bar for being aggressive toward his girlfriend, an employee at the bar. Initially, Rivera left the bar without incident, but then he returned a few hours later and tried to get back into the bar. The bar’s bouncer didn’t allow Rivera back in, and Rivera got back into his car.

Rivera, upset that he was not allowed back in the bar, began driving his car in a fast and reckless manner around the bar, making U-turns and revving his engine loudly. While Rivera was engaging in this reckless behavior, Pittman was outside the bar talking with friends. Unfortunately, Pittman was struck by Rivera’s vehicle and suffered serious injuries as a result. Pittman then filed a negligence lawsuit against Rivera as well as the owners of the bar.

Continue reading

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.

A 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.

Continue reading

Earlier this month, one state’s supreme court heard an appeal in a personal injury case in which the jury found that the defendant was liable for causing the accident but awarded the plaintiff zero dollars as compensation.

Lowman v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company:  The Facts

In the case, Lowman v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company, the plaintiff was struck by another driver who did not have insurance. The plaintiff had her own insurance through State Farm. This insurance policy had, among other things, coverage for accidents caused by uninsured motorists. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against State Farm.

Importantly, this case presented only limited issues. For starters, State Farm admitted that the uninsured motorist was negligent in causing the accident. Thus, the only issue for the jury to consider was whether the uninsured motorist’s negligence caused any harm to the plaintiff. In addition, the plaintiff withdrew her claim seeking lost wages, and she also admitted that her medical bill had already been paid. So the only claim in front of the jury was whether she suffered “pain and suffering” as a result of the accident.

Continue reading

As personal injury counsel, we are often faced with the difficult task of working on behalf of injured children and their families. As parents, we understand that injuries to children can involve devastating and heartbreaking situations and present unique legal issues which practitioners need to consider.

When encountered with a claim for injuries to a child, it is initially important to determine the applicable statute of limitations. The general statute of limitations for personal injury claims under Indiana law is two years. Ind. Code § 34-11-2-4. However, because children are legally incompetent due to their minority, they do not have the legal capacity to sue on their own. For this reason a minor’s statute of limitations is generally tolled until they reach majority. Ind. Code § 34-11-6-1. Therefore minors generally have until their 20th birthday to bring personal injury claims.
Continue reading

Contact Information