Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries
Batten v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co.
Consolidated cases presented a certified question from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon. The Oregon Supreme Court was asked to determine whether Oregon law precluded an insurer from limiting its liability for uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) benefits on the basis that another policy also covered the insured’s losses. Each plaintiff suffered injuries caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist, and each plaintiff incurred resulting damages that qualify as covered losses under multiple motor vehicle insurance policies issued by defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm). Each plaintiff alleged a loss that exceeded the declared liability limits of any single applicable policy and sought to recover the excess under additional applicable policies, up to the combined total of the limits of liability. In each case, however, State Farm refused to cover the excess loss, citing a term in the policies that allowed State Farm to limit its liability to the amount that it agreed to pay under the single policy with the highest applicable limit of liability. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that that term made State Farm’s uninsured motorist coverage less favorable to its insureds than the model coverage that the legislature has required and, thus, was unenforceable. View "Batten v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Williams v. Lazer
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's anti-SLAPP special motion to dismiss this defamation action, holding that Defendant's statements met the requirements for anti-SLAPP privilege and that the absolute litigation privilege applied.Plaintiff threatened to sue Defendant over a text message that he perceived as defamatory. Defendant subsequently filed a complaint with the Nevada Real Estate Division (NRED) alleging that Defendant, in a certain real estate matter, had acted unethically. Plaintiff brought this tort complaint based on Defendant's NRED complaint. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the anti-SLAPP statute and absolute litigation privilege applied to protect her from liability. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Defendant met the good faith standard under the anti-SLAPP framework; and (2) the absolute litigation privilege applied such that Plaintiff could not prevail on his claims. View "Williams v. Lazer" on Justia Law
X.M. v. Super. Ct.
X.M., a student at Maple Elementary School, sued Hesperia Unified School District (HUSD), claiming he was sexually assaulted on campus by one of their employees. He sought treble damages under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, alleging his assault resulted from HUSD’s cover up of a prior sexual assault by the same employee. The trial court granted the school district’s motion to strike the increased damages request on the ground that treble damages under section 340.1 were primarily punitive and therefore barred by Government Code section 818. X.M. filed a petition for writ of mandate asking the Court of Appeal to vacate the trial court’s order and conclude section 818’s immunity did not apply to the treble damages provision at issue here. He argued the primary purpose of the provision is to compensate victims of childhood sexual assault for the additional harm caused by discovering their abuse could have been prevented if those entrusted with their care had responded differently to prior sexual assaults on their watch. In the alternative, he argues the provision’s primary purpose is to incentivize victims to come forward and file lawsuits. The Court concluded the primary purpose of section 340.1’s treble damages provision was punitive because it was designed to deter future cover ups by punishing past ones. "[T]he economic and noneconomic damages available under general tort principles are already designed to make childhood sexual assault victims whole ... It is the rare treble damages provision that isn’t primarily designed to punish and deter misconduct, and nothing in section 340.1 or its legislative history convinces us the Legislature intended the increased award to be more compensatory (or incentivizing) than deterrent." Further, the Court held that section 818’s immunity applied when the defendant was a public agency like HUSD. The Court therefore denied the petition. View "X.M. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
Hyundai Motor America et al. v. Hutton et al.
The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review arose from a single-car accident involving a 2005 Santa Fe Hyundai, which had been rented by Joyce Hutton, and driven by Derek Bell on U.S. Highway 61. It was reported to the police officer that the car drifted into the median, and Bell lost control. Both Bell and Hutton were injured. Hutton filed suit against Hyundai Motor America, Hyundai Motor Company, and Bell, and Bell filed a cross-claim against Hyundai. Hutton settled her injury claims against Bell prior to trial. Bell and Hutton proceeded against Hyundai. At trial, both alleged the car was defectively designed. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged the Hyundai was defectively designed due to an exposed, unprotected component of the anti-lock braking system (ABS). Plaintiffs claimed that an unseen and never-discovered object of unknown elements and composition struck a component part, dislodging an ABS tone ring temporarily, which caused the vehicle’s computer to send erratic braking signals. The erratic signals in turn caused the ABS computer to assume that the front right wheel was not turning, which in turn caused braking to occur on the front left side. The alleged one-sided braking caused Bell to lose control before the vehicle overturned multiple times. Hyundai countered that a phantom object was never seen, found, or identified by Bell, Hutton, the state trooper who investigated the accident, eyewitnesses to the accident, Plaintiffs’ witnesses (experts or otherwise), or anyone else. Further, Hyundai argued that, assuming arguendo that Plaintiffs’ multiple-chain-reaction theory were possible, the trajectory of any object would have occurred within fifty milliseconds - a scientific, physical impossibility. After a two-week trial, the jury returned a verdict for Plaintiffs: $193,000 for Hutton and $2 million for Bell. Hyundai appealed, claiming a number of errors by the trial court. The Supreme Court the trial court committed reversible error, therefore the verdict was reversed, and judgment rendered in favor of Hyundai. View "Hyundai Motor America et al. v. Hutton et al." on Justia Law
Laramie v. Philip Morris USA Inc.
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the trial court entering judgment upon the jury's verdict in this wrongful death case and awarding Plaintiff $11 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, holding that there was no prejudicial error.In 1995, the Attorney General filed a complaint against Philip Morris and other manufacturers of tobacco products, arguing that the companies had conspired to mislead the Commonwealth and its citizens concerning the risks of smoking. The parties settled the case three years later as part of a nationwide settlement. In 2017, Plaintiff, the widow of a smoker who died from lung cancer after decades of smoking Philip Morris cigarettes, sued Phillip Morris pursuant to the wrongful death statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, 2. The jury rendered a verdict for Plaintiff. On appeal, Philip Morris argued that the 1998 settlement precluded Plaintiff's recovery of punitive damages. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the doctrine of claim preclusion did not apply in these circumstances and that Philip Morris was not prejudiced by the other asserted errors at trial. View "Laramie v. Philip Morris USA Inc." on Justia Law
Finlan v. Chase
Defendant-appellant Chase sexually assaulted aesthetician, plaintiff-respondent Kimberly Finlan during a facial treatment session at a resort spa. Finlan sued Chase, and in the course of litigating her personal injury action, she sent multiple letters offering to settle for $999,000. The letters stated that her offers were made pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 998, but said nothing about how the offers were to be accepted. Chase did not respond to these offers. Finlan prevailed at trial, receiving an award of $3,875,000. The issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review in this case centered on whether a simple reference to section 998 satisfied the acceptance provision requirement of the statute. The Court concluded it did not, based on settled caselaw. Further, the Court determined a valid acceptance provision required more than mere reference to a judgment; section 998 offers must provide some kind of instruction or indication as to how they can be accepted, utilizing a written acceptance that includes a signature from the offeree’s counsel or the unrepresented offeree. Accordingly, the section 998 offers in this case were not statutorily valid, and the trial court's postjudgment order was reversed to the extent it allowed plaintiff to recover costs and interest that could only be awarded based on defendant's failure to accept a legitimate section 998 offer. View "Finlan v. Chase" on Justia Law
Nunes v. Lizza
Devin Nunes, a Member of Congress from California, appeals the district court's dismissal of his complaint alleging defamation and conspiracy claims against defendant and Hearst based on an article published in Esquire magazine about his parents' farm and the use of undocumented immigrants.The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court that the complaint fails to state a claim for express defamation based on the statements at issue in the article regarding Nunes' alleged improper use of his position as Chairman of the House of Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and adopted the district court's conclusions. In regard to a statement regarding Nunes' attempt to undermine the Russia investigation, the court concluded that Nunes failed to identify that statement as allegedly defamatory in his complaint, and the court declined to consider the issue for the first time on appeal.However, in regard to Nunes' claim for defamation by implication, the court concluded that Nunes has plausibly alleged that defendant and Hearst intended or endorsed the implication that Nunes conspired to cover up his parents' farm's use of undocumented labor. The court explained that the manner in which the article presents the discussion of the farm's use of undocumented labor permits a plausible inference that defendant and Hearst intended or endorsed the implication. Finally, in regard to actual malice, the court concluded that the pleaded facts are suggestive enough to render it plausible that defendant engaged in the purposeful avoidance of the truth. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Nunes v. Lizza" on Justia Law
Pals v. Weekly
Following the death of five members of the Pals family in a car accident in a construction zone after defendant drove his semi-truck into the back of the Pals' vehicle, plaintiffs filed a wrongful death and negligence action against defendant, his employer, and two contractors involved in the highway construction project, IHC and Sawyer.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of IHC and Sawyer, concluding that, even if IHC and Sawyer owed a duty to the Pals, and even if they breached that duty (questions the district court did not decide), the negligence claim against the two contractors would necessarily fail because defendant's negligence in causing the accident was an efficient intervening cause under Nebraska law. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs' motion to stay. View "Pals v. Weekly" on Justia Law
University of Kansas Hospital Authority v. Board of Franklin County Commissioners
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court to grant summary judgment on the University of Kansas Hospital Authority's (KUHA) claims against the City of Ottawa seeking to recover the cost of medical treatment provided to an indigent patient who was injured in a car crash, holding that the City was not obligated to pay the patient's medical expenses.In seeking to recover the cost of the patient's medical treatment in this case, KUHA relied on Kan. Stat. Ann. 22-4612(a), which requires a city or county to pay a health care provider for health care services rendered to an indigent person in the custody of a city or the city's law enforcement agency. The district court granted summary judgment against the City of Ottawa, ruling that the Ottawa Police Department (OPD) ultimately had custody of the patient, and not the City. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that OPD did not have custody of the patient under section 22-4612(a), and therefore, the City was not liable for the patient's unpaid medical expenses. View "University of Kansas Hospital Authority v. Board of Franklin County Commissioners" on Justia Law
Greenwood Leflore Hospital et al. v. Watson
Roxanne Watson filed two successive lawsuits against Greenwood Leflore Hospital and Dr. John Lucas III (collectively, “GLH”), alleging medical negligence. Watson’s first complaint was dismissed without prejudice because a notice of claim was not filed with the chief executive officer of the governmental entity at least ninety days before instituting suit as required by Mississippi Code Section 11-46-11(1) (Rev. 2019) of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA). Watson then refiled the complaint. GLH sought dismissal of the second complaint, contending that Watson was required to provide it with a second notice of claim and that the one-year statute of limitations had expired. The trial court denied GLH’s motion to dismiss, and the Mississippi Supreme Court granted an interlocutory appeal. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Watson satisfied the MTCA’s notice requirements, affirming the trial court’s order denying the motion to dismiss. View "Greenwood Leflore Hospital et al. v. Watson" on Justia Law