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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Alaska issued an opinion in a car accident case, affirming the lower court’s decision to uphold the jury’s defense verdict. In addition, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision to award reasonable attorney’s fees to the defendant after it was shown that the plaintiff turned down a reasonable pre-trial offer.

Snowy RoadMarshall v. Peter:  A Minor Accident Results in a $200,000 Lawsuit

The plaintiff, Marshall, was stopped at a red light, waiting to make a turn. The defendant, Peter, pulled up behind Marshall and came to a complete stop. At the time, the roads were icy and very slick, but Peter was able to come to a complete stop behind Marshall without issue.

When the light turned green, Marshall started to pull forward. Peter then lifted his foot off the brake pedal and started to roll forward. As he did so, Marshall stopped her car in the intersection as another car approached. Peter attempted to stop his car, which was going about three miles per hour at the time, but his car slid on the ice and into the back of Marshall’s car.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion affirming a lower court’s granting of the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law in a product liability case surrounding an allegedly defective smoke detector. In the case, Hosford v. BRK Brands, the court ultimately held that the plaintiffs’ failure to show that a “safer, practical, alternative design” was available for the defendant to use in the manufacturing process was fatal to the plaintiffs’ claim.

FireThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a young girl who died when the family’s mobile home caught fire. According to the facts section of the appellate opinion, an electrical malfunction caused a slow smoldering fire to start in the family’s mobile home. The parents of the young girl were awakened when one of the two smoke detectors they had installed went off. The parents were able to safely rescue their nine-month-old son, who was sleeping in the room with them, but they were unable to rescue their nine-year-old daughter. The daughter died in the fire.

The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the smoke detector, arguing that the technology used in the unit was not effective at providing an early warning during slow smoldering fires. Under the applicable law, in order to succeed in their claim, the plaintiffs needed to prove that there was a “safer, practical, alternative design” that the defendant could have used to manufacture the smoke detector. The plaintiffs pointed to another type of technology that is available and is more effective at detecting early signs of a slow smoldering fire.

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In a recently decided case, a plaintiff sued a grocery store for injuries after she slipped and fell on a piece of watermelon at the store. A store employee had been handing out watermelon samples close to where the woman had slipped. The woman alleged that the grocery store was negligent because the floor was wet from the watermelon samples and posed a danger to customers. She claimed that the store either knew or should have known about the danger because offering watermelon samples in a busy section of the store created a danger in and of itself. But the plaintiff did not have evidence as to how long the piece of watermelon had been on the floor before she slipped on it.

Watermelon SlicesThe court found that the case failed because of the woman’s lack of knowledge as to the length of time the watermelon had been on the floor. The woman had to show that the danger posed was due to the store’s negligent conduct. The court explained that normally a plaintiff must demonstrate a store was negligent either because it knew that the danger existed or because it should have known about the danger but failed to do anything about it.

The court found that the woman could not do that in this case because there was no evidence that the store knew a piece of watermelon had dropped on the ground, or that it should have known it was there due to the length of time it had been on the floor. In addition, while the woman argued that the court should have found that the business’ decision to pass out watermelon by itself created a danger, the court rejected the argument. As a result, since she had no evidence as to the length of time the dangerous condition that caused her to fall existed, her case failed.

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In a case arising out of a federal court of appeal, a tractor driver was driving down a highway with a trailer attached when the trailer detached from the tractor. The tractor driver pulled over to reattach the trailer, but before he completed the turn, another car crashed into the trailer, killing the car’s driver. The driver’s estate filed suit. The tractor and trailer’s insurance company came to a settlement with the driver’s estate but agreed they would still litigate what the policy limits were.

TrailerIn this case, both the tractor and the trailer were insured by the same insurance company. The insurance company argued that the policy limited its liability to $1 million per accident, despite the number of insured vehicles involved. The driver’s estate argued that the policy covered $1 million per vehicle involved in the accident, bringing the limit to $2 million because both the tractor and the trailer were involved. Under the settlement terms, the insurance company agreed to pay $1,000,000 if the insurance company’s interpretation was adopted and $1,550,000 if the estate’s interpretation was accepted. The trial court found that the estate’s interpretation was correct, and the insurance company appealed the decision.

In a lengthy opinion that parsed the language of the insurance policy, the federal court of appeals found that the insurance company’s interpretation was correct and that the policy was limited to $1 million. It found that according to the state’s law and the terms of the policy, the policy was limited to $1 million per accident, regardless of the number of covered vehicles involved. Thus, the insurance company only had to pay $1 million to the driver’s estate.

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Business owners have a duty to maintain safe premises for their customers. Generally speaking, this means making sure that any area that customers can access is free of dangerous conditions that could cause an injury. When a business is lax in this duty, and a person is injured while on a business owner’s property, they may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries they sustained.

Cut WatermelonTo be eligible for compensation after a slip-and-fall accident, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant business was negligent. This can be done in a number of ways. Most often, this is proven through showing either that the defendant caused the dangerous condition to arise or that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition that gave rise to the plaintiff’s accident. A recent case illustrates these two methods of establishing liability.

Edwards v. Hy-Vee:  The Facts

Edwards was a shopper at a grocery store owned by Hy-Vee. On her way out of the store, she slipped and fell, injuring herself. When she got up, she saw remnants of watermelon, as well as a watermelon seed stuck to the bottom of her shoe. She also noticed that an employee was handing out samples about six feet away. She filed a premises liability case against Hy-Vee, seeking compensation for her injuries.

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Florida drivers are required to carry certain levels of auto insurance in order to legally drive on public roads. The idea behind this requirement is that when an accident happens, and the person who causes the accident is not able to financially cover the costs incurred by the victim, the insurance company will cover the accident victim’s costs. However, insurance companies are not always willing to cover all the costs associated with an accident, or they may deny a claim altogether. When this is the case, the accident victim is permitted to file a lawsuit against the insurance company, asking the court to require the insurance company to hold up its end of the bargain.

Damaged CarA Recent Example of the Difficulties of Dealing with an Insurance Company After an Accident

In a recent case, Etherton v. Owners Insurance Company, an appellate court upheld a $2.25 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff after his attempted negotiations with his own insurance company were fruitless. The award consisted of the requested amount of $750,000 for the plaintiff’s injuries, as well as $1.5 million for the insurance company’s failure to settle the claim in a timely manner.

The Facts of the Case

Etherton was involved in an accident with another motorist, who happened to have very low limits on his insurance policy. Etherton settled with the other motorist’s insurance company for $250,000, but since he sustained serious injuries that required three surgeries, he sought additional compensation through his own insurance company under the underinsured motorist provision of his insurance contract.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Arizona decided an interesting case involving a defendant’s right to name additional defendants in a case that was originally filed against only a single defendant. In the case, Cramer v. Starr, the court determined that the defendant did have a right to name an additional party to the lawsuit whom the defendant believed may be partially liable to the plaintiff for the injuries that formed the basis for the personal injury claim.

Damaged Car

The Facts of the Case

Mungia, the plaintiff, was involved in a rear-end accident. Cramer was the driver of the car that struck the rear of Mungia’s vehicle. After the accident, Mungia began experiencing back pain and consulted with a chiropractor. After a few months of treatment and no improvement of her symptoms, she had an MRI performed, and it was discovered that she had several bulging discs. The doctor whom she had gone to see about her back pain recommended this surgery. However, after the surgery was performed, Mungia’s pain was worse than before. Mungia filed a lawsuit against Cramer, alleging that her injuries stemmed from the car accident caused by Cramer.

At trial, Cramer asked the court to allow her to name the doctor who performed the surgery as an additional defendant, arguing that it was the doctor’s negligence rather than her own that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The court denied the request, and Cramer appealed.

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Earlier last month, a state appellate court issued an interesting opinion dealing with governmental immunity as it applies to slip-and-fall cases occurring on government land. In the case, Kozak v. City of Lincoln Park, the court discussed the “highway exception” to the general rule that government agencies are not liable for injuries caused on their land or by their employees.

Leaves on SidewalkThe Facts of the Case

Mrs. Kozak was crossing the street in Lincoln Park when she tripped on a raised portion of the road. According to the court’s written opinion, there were two concrete slabs that met in the middle of the street. Where those two slabs met, there was about a three-inch height differential between the two slabs because they did not line up perfectly.

Kozak filed a personal injury lawsuit against the City of Lincoln Park, claiming that the City was liable for her injuries because it failed to fix the dangerous condition where the two concrete slabs met. In response to Kozak’s claims, the City asserted its governmental immunity, claiming that the road was reasonably safe. In support of its position, the City had the Director of Public Services testify that in his opinion, the roadway was safe.

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Earlier this month, a federal court of appeals heard an appeal from a product liability case involving an allegedly defective door-knob guard. In the case, Coterel v. Dorel Juvenile Group, the plaintiffs were the parents of a boy who successfully disengaged the door-knob guard manufactured by the defendants and was later found dead in a pond. At issue in the appeal was the trial court’s admission of evidence indicating that the young boy had previously disengaged the mechanism and that the deadbolt to the front door was not locked on the day in question.

Door HandleEvidentiary Rulings in Personal Injury Cases

Courts are governed by certain sets of rules when it comes to which evidence can be admitted at trial. Not all evidence is relevant, and not all relevant evidence is admissible for a variety of reasons. In the Coterel case, the parents of the young boy objected to the admission of the evidence that would show the jury that their son had successfully negotiated the door-knob guard in the past and that the parents had forgotten to lock the front deadbolt.

The trial court determined that the evidence was proper and allowed it to be considered by the jury. After the trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the court’s alleged error in allowing the evidence to be considered by the jury warranted a new trial.

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Earlier this month, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued an opinion of interest to anyone considering filing a premises liability case against a landowner. In the case, Roy v. State, the court discussed how a state’s recreational use statute may act to prevent an injured party from seeking compensation for their injuries if the injuries occurred on the land of another party that had been opened up for free use by the general public.

Lake SceneThe Facts of the Case

Roy was paralyzed after he dove into a pond in a state-owned park. The park had “no swimming” signs posted around the pond, but the swimming prohibition was not strictly enforced. In fact, it seems that there would even be lifeguards on duty some days to ensure that those who did decide to swim were doing so safely. In addition to the “no swimming” signs, there were also “no diving” signs, and from the evidence at trial, this prohibition was enforced.

On the day in question, Roy dove into the pond after quickly inspecting the water level from above. He explained that it looked deep enough to dive into and also that he didn’t enter the water at a perpendicular angle, but instead at a more gradual angle through what he called a shallow dive. In any event, Roy struck his head on the bottom of the lake and broke his neck. He suffered permanent paralysis as a result. He then filed a premises liability lawsuit against the state, as the owner and operator of the park, alleging that the state was negligent in the maintenance of the park.

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