Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries
K.N.B. v. M.D.
The Appellee in this case, K.N.B., was a freshman at Clarion University in 2015. K.N.B. claimed that a fellow Clarion student, M.D., sexually assaulted her in September 2015. K.N.B. initially did not report the assault to the police. Only after seeing M.D. at a Walmart in early 2018 did K.N.B. report the assault to the Clarion University Police Department. By this time, K.N.B. was no longer a student at the University. The main question this appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether a petition seeking a protective order under the Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence or Intimidation Act (“PVSVIA”) was subject to the two-year statute of limitations governing certain enumerated civil actions, or the six-year catch-all statute of limitations that applies to non-enumerated actions. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the six-year limitations period applied, affirming the superior court. View "K.N.B. v. M.D." on Justia Law
Strobel v. Johnson & Johnson
Strobel, diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2019, died at age 68 in 2020. Strobel had sued for product liability, negligence, and fraud, alleging that continuous exposure to asbestos in J&J’s Baby Powder (JBP), a product he used regularly for 60 years, was a substantial contributing cause of his mesothelioma. J&J’s expert swore that JBP was at all relevant times asbestos-free. The Strobels filed declarations from five experts, all contradicting J&J’s experts. The court sustained J&J’s hearsay objections to much of the Strobels’ proffered expert testimony and concluded that, after the exclusion of this testimony, the Strobels could not bear their burden of proof on legal causation because what remained—opinions from Drs. Fitzgerald and Compton—only confirmed the presence of asbestos in the talcum ore J&J used to manufacture JBP, not in JBP offered for sale as a finished product during the years Strobel used it.The court of appeal reversed a judgment in favor of J&J. The Strobels presented sufficient admissible evidence on legal causation to create a triable issue. The court noted the evidence of long-term usage in this case and concluded that Fitzgerald fairly drew the inference that JBP dating from within the exposure period contained asbestos. View "Strobel v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law
Reece v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's negligence claim based on a determination that no duty was owed in this case, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff's husband suffered catastrophic injuries when the motorcycle he was operating was hit by a car in an intersection. Plaintiff brought this action against Defendant, alleging negligence for allowing the property it owed to grow grass so high that it blocked the view of the roadway. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not owe a duty to nearby motorists. View "Reece v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc." on Justia Law
Roberts v. Unison Behavioral Health
After Sally Madison Roberts was involved in a car accident with a vehicle owned by Unison Behavioral Health (a Georgia community service board), she filed suit against Unison. As required by the Georgia Tort Claims Act (“GTCA”), Roberts provided an ante litem notice listing, among other things, the nature of her loss. Unison moved to dismiss Roberts’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that the description of her loss was insufficient. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, but after Unison was granted an interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Roberts’s petition for certiorari to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in determining that Roberts’s ante litem notice failed to meet the requirements of OCGA 50-21-26 (a) (5) (D). Because the Supreme Court concluded Roberts’s notice was sufficient, it reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. View "Roberts v. Unison Behavioral Health" on Justia Law
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