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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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Medical malpractice cases are subject to very strict rules, including statutes of limitations, which require that the plaintiff file the case within a certain amount of time. If a plaintiff fails to file the case before a statute of limitations runs, the court loses jurisdiction to hear the case, and the plaintiff will not be permitted to put on their case.

SurgeryThere are, however, certain exceptions to statutes of limitations that can prevent the time from accruing. One of these is the “continuing course of treatment” doctrine, which tolls the statute of limitations in a medical malpractice case while the allegedly negligent medical provider is still providing medical care to the plaintiff after the alleged act of negligence. A recent case illustrates this concept.

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Earlier this month, a Mississippi appellate court issued an interesting opinion discussing the limits on government immunity. In the case, Mississippi Transportation Commission v. Adams, the plaintiff was the estate of a man who was killed when he inadvertently rode his motorcycle into a construction zone and was involved in an accident. The court ultimately denied the government’s assertion of immunity, holding that the specific negligent act at issue was ministerial rather than discretionary.

Road LineThe Facts of the Case

Adams was riding his motorcycle on Interstate 10 when he accidentally entered a construction zone. As he tried to exit the construction zone safely, he struck an area where the pavement was not level, lost control, and was thrown from the motorcycle. After he fell off the bike, he was struck by at least two other passing vehicles. He died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

His estate filed a negligence lawsuit against the Transportation Commission, a government agency, claiming that the roadway was unnecessarily dangerous because the construction zone was not properly marked. One of the claims alleged that the white lines leading into the construction zone had not been covered up. The agency asserted its government immunity as a defense to the lawsuit.

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The highest civil appellate court in the state of West Virginia recently made a ruling that will void an award of over $55,000 that was given to an injured plaintiff by the jury after a premises liability trial. The high court ruled that the plaintiff never made an adequate showing that the defendant’s alleged negligence was the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, and without such evidence the plaintiff could not receive any damages as a matter of law. Based on the recent opinion, the plaintiff will be unable to collect any compensation for the injuries he suffered when a fence he was leaning on broke, sending him falling down a hill and causing injuries.

Wooden FencePlaintiff Is Injured at a Park that Was Operated by the Defendant

The plaintiff in the case of Wheeling Park Commission v. Datolli was a man who was injured while he was visiting a West Virginia public park that was operated by the defendant. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff needed to rest while he was at the park, and he decided to lean against a fence atop a small hill because there were no benches in the area for him to have a seat. After briefly inspecting the split-rail fence and noticing no defects, the plaintiff leaned on the top rail of the fence, which became dislodged from the fence post and resulted in the plaintiff falling down the hill, seriously injuring his shoulder.

Plaintiff Files a Premises Liability Case Against the Park Commission

The plaintiff later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the park commission, seeking damages for his medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering related to the accident. At trial, the plaintiff called the operations manager of the park as a witness, who testified that the fence was over 20 years old and could be subject to decay, although the Park Commission could not show that they had repaired or maintained the fence in question. After the trial, the plaintiff was awarded damages for the medical expenses and lost wages that he incurred as a result of the accident, although his claim for pain and suffering damages was denied by the jury.

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Earlier this month, a woman who broke her ankle after slipping and falling on ice outside a Marriott hotel had her case reversed based on an error the trial judge made while instructing the jury. In the case, Alcala v. Marriott International, the court held that the jury’s general verdict finding the defendant negligent had to be reversed because two of the four theories of liability provided to the jury were based on improper instructions. As a result, the plaintiff will need to try the case all over again.

Snowy WalkwayAlcala v. Marriott International:  The Facts

Alcala was on a business trip staying at a Marriott hotel. During her stay, as she was exiting the hotel, she slipped on a sidewalk outside one of the hotel’s main exits. As a result of her fall, she sustained a broken ankle. She then filed a premises liability lawsuit against Marriott, claiming the company was negligent.

The plaintiff claimed that Marriott was negligent in several ways. First, its employees were not properly trained to handle icy walkways. Second, the company was negligent for failing to inspect the sidewalk. Third, the company was negligent for failing to safely maintain the sidewalk. Finally, the company was negligent for failing to use slip-resistant materials when constructing the sidewalk.

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Insurance companies like to put on a good face in their marketing, explaining that they cover their customers in times of need and help them get back to where they were before their accident. However, make no mistake, insurance companies are for-profit companies that can only survive by taking in more revenue than they pay out in claims. Thus, individual insurance adjusters are motivated to deny even the most meritorious claim, and people who are not denied are often offered low-ball settlement offers to make the claim go away.

School BusIt is important to keep in mind, however, that an accident victim is not stuck with what an insurance company offers them. And in cases in which an insurance company denies a claim outright, that is not necessarily the final word on the matter. Courts can, and often do, get involved between accident victims and insurance companies to make sure that the insurance policy is honored.

Insurance policies are contracts, by which the insurance company agrees to compensate the insured for certain expenses and injuries. In the case of motor vehicle insurance, the insurance company agrees to compensate the insured if they are involved in a qualifying accident. This coverage extends not only to the insured but also to anyone injured by the insured. A recent case out of Delaware is a good example of how an insurance company may try to escape paying out a valid claim.

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