Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

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In this case concerning the sequence in which Montrose Chemical Corporation, which was sued by causing environmental damage in the Los Angeles area, may access its excess insurance policies covering the period from 1961 to 1985, the Supreme Court held that Montrose may seek indemnification under any excess policy once it has exhausted the underlying excess policies in the same policy period. Montrose purchased primary and excess comprehensive general liability insurance to cover its operations at its Torrance facility from defendant insurers between 1961 and 1985. Montrose's primary insurance was exhausted in litigation due to environmental contamination allegedly caused by Montrose's operation of this facility. At issue was whether Montrose was required to exhaust other insurance coverage from other policy periods. The Supreme Court held (1) Montrose was entitled to access otherwise available coverage under any excess policy once it has exhausted directly underlying excess policies for the same policy period; and (2) an insurer called on to provide indemnification may seek reimbursement from other insurers that would have been liable to provide coverage under excess policies for any period in which the injury occurred. View "Montrose Chemical Corp. of California v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In 2014, plaintiff George Blair filed a petition for damages in which he alleged that a 2011 Ford Escape driven by Lori Brewer struck his 2008 Honda Civic in 2013. According to Plaintiff, at the time of the collision he was at a complete stop at a traffic signal when his vehicle was suddenly struck from the rear by Brewer’s vehicle, propelling him into the intersection. At the time of the accident, Ms. Brewer was in the course and scope of her work and was driving a company vehicle owned by AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation (“Amerisource”), which, according to the Petition, had a policy of motor vehicle liability insurance with ACE American Insurance Company Inc. (“ACE”) insuring against the negligent acts of Ms. Brewer (together with Amerisource and ACE, “Defendants”). Plaintiff alleged that the collision caused injuries to his neck and back for which he sought damages from Defendants related to, inter alia, his physical pain and suffering, mental pain, anguish, and distress, medical expenses, and loss of enjoyment of life. In an apparent effort to disprove a causal connection between Plaintiff’s injuries and the collision, Defendants sought to introduce at trial the expert opinion of Dr. Charles E. “Ted” Bain. Dr. Bain west forth his calculation of a low impact collision and the likely preexisting nature of Plaintiff's injuries, thus concluding that plaintiff was not subject to forces and acceleration that would have caused serious or long-lasting injuries. Plaintiff moved to exclude the expert's report, and the trial court granted the motion. The court of appeal would reverse that order, and the issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review was whether the appellate court was correct in summarily reversing the trial court's exclusion. Finding no abuse of discretion in the trial court's determination that Dr. Bain's testimony was not based on sufficient facts or data, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court and reinstated the trial court's judgment. View "Blair v. Coney" on Justia Law

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Robert Rabe worked as a pipefitter in an Atchison Topeka & Sante Fe Railroad (“ATSF”) repair shop. In that capacity, he replaced pipe insulation on passenger cars manufactured by The Budd Company (“Budd”). Rabe died from malignant mesothelioma. Nancy Little, individually and as personal representative of Rabe’s estate, brought state common-law tort claims against Budd, claiming Rabe died from exposure to asbestos-containing insulation surrounding the pipes on Budd-manufactured railcars. A jury ruled in Little’s favor. On appeal, Budd contended Little’s state tort claims were preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”), under a theory that all passenger railcars were “appurtenances” to a complete locomotive. The Tenth Circuit determined that because Budd did not raise this issue before the district court, and because Budd did not seek plain-error review, this particular assertion of error was waived. Alternatively, Budd contended Little’s tort claims were preempted by the Safety Appliance Act (“SAA”. The Tenth Circuit determined that assertion was foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. v. Georgia, 234 U.S. 280 (1914). Therefore, finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Little v. Budd Company" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of a $356,619.30 judgment in favor of the Estate of Joyce Rosamond Peterson against Defendants Bitters and Henry. Bitters, a financial advisor, advised Petersen to withdraw $150,000 from her annuities and to loan it to another client of his, Henry. The court rejected Bitters' assertion that the Estate's fraud and breach-of-fiduciary-duty claims were time-barred, and that the district court erred by instead instructing the jury to apply the four-year limitations period for claims of negligence and fraud. The court held that any potential error did not affect Bitters' substantial rights. The court also held that the district court had a duty to make the damages award conform to the law, and did not abuse its discretion by preventing the Estate from recovering twice for a single, indivisible injury; the evidence was insufficient to provide the jury with a reasonably certain basis for calculating pain-and-suffering damages; because it was clear at the Rule 50 hearing that the claims for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty under Nebraska law were identical, the district court did not err by dismissing the Estate's negligence claim; and summary judgment to Defendant Boland was not erroneous because there was no genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Bitters and Boland had entered into a partnership. View "Estate of Joyce R. Petersen v. Bitters" on Justia Law

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In this case brought against an insurer in Plaintiff's attempt to collect on a judgment in his favor in a strict liability and negligent failure to warn action, the Court of Appeals held that damages from a continuous bodily injury judgment must be allocated on a pro rata, time-on-the-risk basis across all insured and insurable periods triggered by Plaintiff's injuries. Almost forty years after exposure to asbestos at his place of work, Plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Plaintiff won a nearly $2.7 million judgment against the asbestos installer. Plaintiff then initiated garnishment proceedings against Defendant as insurer of the asbestos installer. At issue before the circuit court was how to allocate loss among various trigger insurance policies because the installer was only insured by Defendant from 1974 to 1977 through four comprehensive general liability policies. The circuit court concluded that Plaintiff's damages must be allocated on a pro rata, time-on-the risk basis across all insured and insurable periods triggered by Plaintiff's injuries. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly applied the pro rata allocation approach rather than a joint-and-several approach that would have required the insurer to cover the entire judgment. View "Rossello v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The trial court dismissed plaintiff Paul Civetti's negligence action against the Town of Isle La Motte and the Town Road Commissioner on grounds that: (1) because the Road Commissioner was an “appointed or elected municipal officer,” plaintiff was required by 24 V.S.A. section 901(a) to bring his action against the Town, rather than the Road Commissioner; and (2) the Town was, in turn, immune from suit based on municipal immunity. In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that: the Town has formally adopted road standards for its town roads; the Road Commissioner is responsible for assuring that the Town’s roads meet those standards; Main Street did not comply with those standards, including standards relating to the “width and shoulder”; the Road Commissioner knew or should have known that Main Street did not comply; and plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident because of the non-compliant road. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that if the Road Commissioner was negligent in performing a ministerial function, the Town assumes the Road Commissioner’s place in defending the action and therefore may not assert municipal immunity from the claim pursuant to section 901(a) or § 901a, and that dismissal of this claim on the basis of qualified immunity was premature. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Civetti v. Turner" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the application of the statutory scheme permitting an employer that has provided workers compensation benefits to an injured employee to obtain both a subrogation interest in any recovery the employee receives from a third party and a credit for future benefits, the Supreme Court held that the Workers Compensation Board used the improper method for determining the subrogation lien and the future credit. In Employee's third party negligence action, the jury decided both the fault of Employer and the measure of Employee's damages from his workplace injury. The Board applied the jury's finding of fault to Employee's settlement with one of several defendants in his negligence action to compute the reduction in Employer's subrogation lien and future credit for workers compensation benefits it provided or will provide to Employee. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) consistent with Kan. Stat. Ann. 44-504(b), Employer's credit for future benefits should have been determined using each annual settlement payment to Employee from one of the third-party defendants when the payment was received; and (2) the Board erred in aggregating those payments and relying on the total amount when Employee would not receive the last installment for twenty years. View "Hawkins v. Southwest Kansas Co-op Service" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Pat Doe's request for a ten-year extension of a protection from abuse order against Donald McLean, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. On appeal, Doe argued that the district court erred by refusing to hold a hearing on the issue of whether abuse had occurred and in declining to hold a hearing on her request for attorney fees. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the court's rejection of Doe's request to treat her motion to extend as a motion to modify that included a finding of abuse was well within the court's discretion; and (2) the court's decision not to award attorney fees was not an abuse of its discretion. View "Doe v. McLean" on Justia Law

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In October 2012, Jeske, working at a cemetery, was carrying a heavy casket when she stumbled, injuring her back. Four years later, she applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income based on disability; she claimed that back and spine problems, anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies made her unable to work. At a hearing, Jeske told the ALJ that she was 44 years old and lived with her husband and three sons. She changed the date on which she allegedly became disabled to more than a year after her injury because she had substantial gainful activity in 2013. She explained that she received treatment through a workers’ compensation program and her employer allowed her to work from home many days. When the doctor released her from treatment, Jeske’s boss no longer permitted her to work from home and she quit. Since then she has worked as a part-time security guard. The ALJ found Jeske not disabled under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d), 1382c(3). The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The ALJ applied the proper standards and sufficiently explained the decision. Although the evidence showed Jeske suffered from limiting back pain, abundant evidence supports the ALJ’s determination that her condition lacked the requirements of a presumptively disabling impairment. The use of daily-living activities, to assess credibility and symptoms, was not improper. The evidence supported a conclusion that Jeske could perform light work with specific restrictions. View "Jeske v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Brian Ehrhart died within days of contracting hantavirus near his Issaquah, Washington home in early 2017. His widow, Sandra Ehrhart, sued King County’s public health department, Swedish Medical Center, and an emergency room physician, arguing all three had negligently caused Brian's death. King County asserted public duty as an affirmative defense, arguing it was not liable for Brian’s death because it did not owe him any duty as an individual. Ehrhart moved for partial summary judgment asking the court to dismiss this defense and others. The trial court granted Ehrhart’s motion but conditioned its ruling on the jury finding particular facts. King County appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court accepted direct discretionary review. The issues presented were: (1) whether the trial court could properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; and (2) whether the regulations governing King COunty's responsibility to issue health advisories created a duty owed to Brian individually as opposed to a non actionable duty owed to the public as a whole. The Supreme Court determined the trial court could not properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; summary judgment was appropriate only when there were no genuine issues of material fact. The Court concluded King County did not owe an individualized duty to Brian, and no exception to the public duty doctrine applied in this case. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the trial court, and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of King County on its public duty doctrine defense. View "Ehrhart v. King County" on Justia Law