Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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In a recent opinion, a state appellate court determined that the defendant city may be held liable for the wrongful death of a man who was killed after being attacked by several privately owned dogs. The case required the court to discuss the public duty doctrine and apply it to the facts presented. Ultimately, the court determined that the city was not entitled to immunity because a special relationship arose between the plaintiff and the city, giving rise to an obligation to the plaintiff and her husband.

Dog at SunsetThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was concerned about several neighborhood dogs that she perceived as dangerous. She called 911 on at least one occasion, and she was transferred to the city’s dog warden. The plaintiff expressed her concerns, and the dog warden told the plaintiff that “the county would take care of it.”

On another occasion, the dog warden went to the dogs’ owner’s home and was approached by one of the dogs as she pulled into the driveway. The dog jumped onto the car, preventing the dog warden from getting out of the vehicle. The dog warden later issued the owner a citation for failing to keep the dog restrained.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Virginia issued a written opinion in a case involving a pedestrian who was struck and killed by a passing train. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the “last clear chance doctrine” as it applies in that jurisdiction. Ultimately, the court held that the plaintiff’s complaint alleged facts that, if true, would allow the jury to determine that the defendant railroad operator had the opportunity to avoid the collision but failed to do so. As a result, the court permitted the plaintiff’s case to proceed toward trial.

Railroad TracksWhile the determination of whether a party is able to avoid an accident is relevant in Florida personal injury cases, the last clear chance doctrine is not something that would come up under Florida law. This is because Florida applies a far less restrictive doctrine when determining which plaintiffs are entitled to recover damages.

Comparative Fault Versus Contributory Negligence

The jurisdiction where this case arose, Virginia, is a contributory negligence state. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, an accident victim who is at all at fault for the accident resulting in their injuries is not entitled to recover from any other defendants that may have also contributed to the accident. This very strict rule prohibits plaintiffs from recovering in a significant amount of personal injury cases. The last clear chance doctrine acts as a sort of exception to the application of the contributory negligence rule, and it allows negligent accident victims to recover in some circumstances in which the defendant could have avoided the accident.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued a written opinion in a nursing home negligence case brought by the estate of a woman who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. The main issue presented for the court was whether the arbitration agreement signed by the resident’s daughter could bind the resident’s estate to arbitrate any claims it had against the nursing home. Ultimately, the court determined that the arbitration agreement was not binding against the estate, and it allowed the case to proceed through the court system.

Signing a ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case was the executor of the estate of a woman who had died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. When the resident was admitted to the facility, she was not competent to make her own medical decisions, so her daughter was there to assist her. Once the daughter identified the nursing home facility that she thought would be best for her mother, she signed a “Voluntary Arbitration Agreement and Acknowledgement,” stating that any claims that arose from the facility’s care of the resident would be settled through arbitration rather than through the court system.

At the time the daughter signed the form, the daughter did not have power of attorney for her mother. In fact, it was undisputed that she was merely acting as a health care proxy for her mother. However, the daughter signed the agreement, indicating she was her mother’s legal representative, but she listed her relationship as “proxy” later in the form.

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A few weeks ago, an appellate court in New York issued an interesting opinion in a car accident case discussing the ever-present element of foreseeability in personal injury cases. In the case, Hain v. Jamison, the court ended up agreeing with the trial judge that the plaintiff’s wife’s death was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant farm owner’s negligence in allowing an animal to escape.

CalfThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in this case is the husband of a woman who was struck and killed by a passing car as she tried to help an escaped farm animal that had wandered onto the road. After his wife’s death, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the driver of the car that struck his wife as well as the owner of the escaped animal. This opinion deals with the question of whether the farm owner’s alleged negligence in failing to properly maintain a fence to secure the animal could foreseeably have caused the death of the plaintiff’s wife.

The trial judge initially denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, but that decision was reversed on appeal to the intermediate appellate court. That court held that the defendant’s alleged negligence “merely furnished the occasion for, but did not cause, [the plaintiff’s wife] to enter the roadway, where she was struck.” The plaintiff appealed to the state’s highest court.

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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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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 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 last month, four of the five families who lost loved ones in a truck accident entered into and accepted settlement negotiations with the employer of the truck driver who was determined to be at fault in the accident. According to a local news source covering the tragic accident and subsequent settlement, three of the four settlement amounts are still confidential. However, it was released that one family was provided $14 million for the loss of their loved one.

Semi TrucksSettlement Negotiations in Truck Accident Cases

It is commonly asked why so many personal injury cases end up as settlements. While there are several reasons for this, and many are based on the personal preferences of the specific parties involved, certainty is one of the main motivating factors. Even a seemingly rock-solid case can lose its strength if certain evidence is discovered or if an unfavorable pre-trial ruling is made. In these cases, it may behoove a plaintiff to accept a guaranteed sum of money rather than take the case to trial and potentially end up with nothing.

The Facts of the Case

Evidently, back in April of last year, five nursing students were traveling to work on Interstate 16. The students were split up into two cars, and they had come to a stop in a traffic jam that was caused by an unrelated accident. While the two vehicles were in stop-and-go traffic, a truck came up from behind traveling at a high rate of speed. The truck slammed into the rear of one of the vehicles carrying several students. That vehicle then crashed into the other vehicle carrying the remaining students.

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In a dramatic shift from prior decisions, the Supreme Court of Arkansas recently released its opinion regarding the admissibility of seat-belt use evidence in civil lawsuits. The court found that the code that restricts the admissibility of a person’s failure to wear a seat belt violates the Arkansas Constitution.

street-296220_960_720The case arose from a 2011 car accident. Evidently, the petitioner/plaintiff was a passenger of a car driven by the defendant, who fell asleep at the wheel and caused an accident. The passenger brought a suit against the defendant, alleging damages for the injuries she suffered. The passenger also claimed that the driver was acting within the scope and course of his employment when the accident occurred, and she added the employer as a defendant as well. Both defendants filed answers that included the fact that the passenger was not wearing a seat belt as an affirmative defense. The plaintiff argued that the evidence should not be included because it violated a state statute that prevented such evidence. In turn, the defendants challenged the constitutionality of the state statute that restricts the admissibility of seat belt use or non-use in civil actions. Ultimately, the statute was held unconstitutional.

Applicability of the “Seat Belt” Defense in Florida

In the above case, the defendants attempted to use the seat belt defense in order to lessen the amount of damages for which they were liable. This defense has often been incorporated into various comparative fault systems. A number of states do not address the seat belt defense. However, Florida is one of the 15 states that allow a seat belt non-use defense.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Utah issued an opinion in a case that presented an interesting issue regarding when a minor can be held individually liable for their own negligent actions. Ultimately, the court determined that no minor under the age of five can be held liable for their actions, regardless of the level of negligence or recklessness involved. The case, importantly, did not comment on the potential liability of the parents of the minor.

baby-1093759_960_720Neilsen v. Bell:  The Facts of the Case

The Bells had a four-year-old son. When they were away for the evening, they arranged for Neilsen to stay with their son as a babysitter. Unfortunately, while the Bells were away, their son threw a toy at Neilsen’s face, hitting her in the eye. Neilsen, having previously had surgery on her cornea, ended up losing the sight in that eye as a result of the toy striking her.

Neilsen filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Bells, as well as against the young boy in his individual capacity. The lawsuit against the Bells proceeded under the legal theory of negligent entrustment, arguing that they were negligent in leaving their son with Neilsen. However, that claim was dismissed by the trial court and was not appealed by the plaintiff.

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