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Firefighters alleged that they suffered hearing losses caused by the loud noise emitted by a manufacturer’s fire sirens. A perfunctory investigation conducted by the manufacturer during discovery revealed the firefighters’ lawsuit to be clearly time-barred, and also revealed that one firefighter had not even suffered hearing loss attributable to noise exposure. Eventually, Plaintiffs requested the district court to dismiss the case with prejudice (Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2)). In doing so, the court awarded attorneys’ fees and costs in favor of the manufacturer, making an explicit reference to plaintiffs’ counsel’s practice of repeatedly suing the fire siren manufacturer in jurisdictions throughout the country in a virtually identical fashion. The Third Circuit affirmed. Although attorneys’ fees and costs are typically not awarded when a matter is voluntarily dismissed with prejudice, such an award is appropriate when exceptional circumstances exist. Exceptional circumstances include a litigant’s failure to perform a meaningful pre-suit investigation, as well as a repeated practice of bringing meritless claims and then dismissing them with prejudice after both the opposing party and the judicial system have incurred substantial costs. Such exceptional circumstances are present in this case. View "Carroll v. E One Inc." on Justia Law

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The estate of a driver killed in a vehicle/train collision sued a railroad company in a wrongful death action. The District Court entered judgment on the jury verdict finding the driver and railroad negligent and apportioned fault. The railroad, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad Company (BNSF) appealed, and also appealed the post-trial order overruling its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, motion for a new trial. In substance, BNSF contended that federal law preempted the driver's claims, challenged the fairness of the trial proceedings and challenged the amount of damages awarded. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of the driver's estate. View "Nye v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Perry Odom suffered serious injuries when a semi-trailer collapsed on him at work. His employer, Penske Logistics, did not own the trailer, but his employer’s sole stockholder, Penske Truck Leasing, did. Odom and his wife sought to recover from Penske Truck Leasing through a personal injury action in federal court. The district court dismissed their complaint, reasoning Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation scheme as applied here shielded an employer’s stockholders from employee claims arising out of a workplace injury. The Odoms appealed, challenging the district court’s interpretation of the Oklahoma statute. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals certified the interpretive question to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and received an answer making it clear the district court applied an incorrect legal standard in dismissing this case. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Odom v. Penske Truck Leasing Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Avis Rent A Car System, LLC on Avis’s claim for breach of contract but vacated the court’s award of damages. Defendant, a Maine resident, rented a car from an Avis location in Las Vegas, Nevada. The vehicle was damaged when it was involved in an accident in Las Vegas. When Defendant refused to pay for the damages, Avis filed a complaint against Defendant, alleging breach of connect and negligence. The district court concluded that Avis was entitled to partial summary judgment on the breach of contract claim as a matter of law. After an evidentiary hearing, the court granted Avis its requested amount of $15,342 and also awarded attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part, holding that partial summary judgment as to liability was correctly granted but because Avis presented no admissible evidence as to the amount of damages, it failed to prove it was entitled to the damages awarded to it. The Court then remanded the case for an award of nominal damages in accordance with Nevada law. View "Avis Rent A Car System, LLC v. Burrill" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) makes an employer liable for paying the disability benefits and medical expenses of an employee who sustains an injury in the course of his or her employment. In January 1993, Craig Whitmoyer suffered a work-related injury that resulted in the amputation of part of his arm. Starting at that time, his employer, Mountain Country Meats (“MCM”), or MCM’s insurance carrier, Selective Insurance (“Selective”), paid all of Whitmoyer’s medical expenses related to this injury. A few months later, the parties reached an agreement related to Whitmoyer’s disability benefits – he was entitled “to a 20 week healing period and 370 weeks of specific loss benefits [at $237.50 per week after May 22, 1993].” Whitmoyer subsequently petitioned for a commutation of these weekly payments. In December 1994, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”) granted his petition and directed MCM or Selective to pay Whitmoyer a lump sum payment of $69,994.64. While this commutation resolved his entitlement to disability benefits entirely, MCM remained responsible for Whitmoyer’s ongoing medical bills. Several years later, Whitmoyer obtained a $300,000 settlement from third parties related to his injury and, in April 1999, he entered a third-party settlement agreement (the “TPSA”) with Selective providing that as to past-paid compensation, Selective was entitled to a net subrogation lien of $81,627.87. Selective continued to pay Whitmoyer’s work-related medical expenses in full (without taking credit under the TPSA) for approximately thirteen years, until September 2012. At that time, Selective filed a modification petition requesting an adjustment to the TPSA to reflect the medical expenses incurred since the parties entered the agreement. The WCJ found, per the parties’ stipulation, that Selective had paid $206,670.88 for Whitmoyer’s work injury as of February 2013.The WCJ ordered that Selective’s percentage credit be reduced to 26.09% of future medical expenses, up to Whitmoyer’s balance of recovery amount of $189,416.27. Whitmoyer appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (the “Board”), arguing that the TPSA was unenforceable because neither he nor his counsel had signed it. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that the term “instalments of compensation” in section 319 of the WCA encompassed both disability benefits and payment of medical expenses. Under the WCA, disability benefits were required to be paid “in periodical installments, as the wages of the employee were payable before the injury.” Medical expenses are not. Accordingly, when a workers’ compensation claimant recovers proceeds from a third-party settlement (following repayment of compensation paid to date) as prescribed by section 319, the employer (or insurance carrier) is limited to drawing down against that recovery only to the extent that future disability benefits are payable to the claimant. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Whitmoyer v. Workers' Compensation App. Bd." on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether and to what extent a hospital and a health care staffing agency have a legal duty to prevent a terminated employee from causing harm to patients at another health care facility. Plaintiffs claimed David Kwiatkowski, a radiology technician formerly employed at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital (“UPMC”), who was placed there by staffing agency Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc. (“Maxim”), engaged in the diversion and substitution of intravenous fentanyl. Specifically, Kwiatkowski injected himself with fentanyl from a preloaded syringe, refilled the syringe with saline or another substance, and then replaced the now-contaminated syringe where it could be used by others to inject patients. In doing so years later at a Kansas hospital, Kwiatkowski allegedly communicated hepatitis C to Plaintiffs, who were patients at that hospital. Pursuant to federal regulation, UPMC (but not Maxim) indisputably had a legal obligation to report the diversion of controlled substances to the United States Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”). UPMC failed to do so. The Superior Court determined that Plaintiffs established that both UPMC and Maxim (collectively, “Defendants”) had a duty to report Kwiatkowski’s misconduct to the DEA and to “law enforcement,” and that Defendants’ failure to do so could have provided a basis for negligence claims. The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling with respect to UPMC, and reversed the Superior Court’s ruling to the extent it imposed the same duty upon Maxim. View "Walters v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Wal-Mart in an action alleging a premises liability claim against the company for plaintiff's slip and fall. The court held that plaintiff's entire story, uncorroborated assumptions and all, was more plausible than Wal-Mart's proposed alternatives. In this case, plaintiff's was the only explanation supported by multiple, particularized indicia: The auto-scrubber pauses where the level of the floor changes; liquid tends to accumulate in uneven areas; and, per the post-slip cleanup effort, the spill was a concentrated puddle (rather than a trail created by a leaking garbage bin). Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Garcia v. Wal-Mart Stores Texas, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was not entitled to relief on her constitutional challenges to Maine’s Wrongful Birth Statute. After she gave birth to a healthy child, Plaintiff brought this lawsuit against Merck & Co., Inc., claiming that a contraceptive implant manufactured by Merck and/or its applicator were defective. Plaintiff also sued the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging that a doctor at a federally-funded community health center unsuccessfully implanted the Merck product. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint in reliance on Maine’s Wrongful Birth Statute. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s case, rejecting her constitutional challenges to the Wrongful Birth Statute. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s challenges to the constitutionality of the Wrongful Birth Statute under the Maine and United States Constitutions failed. View "Doherty v. Merck & Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of WTVR's motion for a directed verdict in a defamation action. Plaintiff filed suit against WTVR after it aired a news story about a county school system hiring a felon, in this case plaintiff, that lied about a prior criminal conviction on a job application. The court held that plaintiff was a public official, the allegedly defamatory statements related to her official conduct, and thus she was required to prove that WTVR acted with actual malice to succeed on her claim. Furthermore, the district court did not err in concluding that plaintiff presented insufficient evidence that WTVR made the defamatory statements with actual malice. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's pre-trial motion to compel WTVR to disclose the identity of its confidential source where she did not provide a sufficiently compelling interest in the identity of the source to overcome competing First Amendment concerns. View "Horne v. WTVR, LLC" on Justia Law

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An employee must be driving a personal vehicle in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident to extend vicarious liability to an employer. Liability may be imposed on an employer for an employee's tortious conduct while driving to or from work, if at the time of the accident, the employee's use of a personal vehicle was required by the employer or otherwise provided a benefit to the employer. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment imposing liability on the employer in an action where an employee driving home from work on a day that he did not have any job duties outside of the office injured a third party. The court held that the evidence showed that the employee in this case was driving a routine commute to and from work on the day of the accident, and he was not required to use his personal vehicle for work purposes that day. Furthermore, the employer did not otherwise benefit from his use of a personal vehicle that day. Therefore, the employer was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. View "Newland v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law