Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

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Texas resident Gerald Hamric joined a church group on an outdoor recreation trip to Colorado. The church group hired Wilderness Expeditions, Inc. (“WEI”) to arrange outdoor activities. Before the outdoor adventure commenced, WEI required each participant to complete a “Registration Form” and a “Medical Form.” On the first day, WEI led the church group on a rappelling course. In attempting to complete a section of the course that required participants to rappel down an overhang, Hamric became inverted. Attempts to rescue Hamric proved unsuccessful, and he fell and died. Alicia Hamric sued WEI for negligence. WEI moved for summary judgment, asserting the Registration Form and the Medical Form contained a release of its liability for negligence. A magistrate judge first declined to grant leave to amend the complaint due to Ms. Hamric’s failure to (1) sustain her burden under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) because the deadline for amendments had passed; and (2) make out a prima facie case of willful and wanton conduct as required by Colorado law to plead a claim seeking exemplary damages. Next, the magistrate judge concluded WEI was entitled to summary judgment, holding the liability release was valid under both Colorado law and Texas law. Finally, the magistrate judge denied as moot Ms. Hamric’s motions for additional discovery and to disclose an expert out of time. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the magistrate judge's order. View "Hamric v. Wilderness Expeditions, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2006, plaintiff Brenda Gilbert divorced her husband, Monroe Gilbert, who acquired sole possession of the family’s vehicle, which was still registered in plaintiff’s name. In April 2014, Monroe informed plaintiff that he had to report to the Woodland Park Municipal Court (WPMC) regarding many outstanding traffic tickets; the court summonses were issued in plaintiff’s name. On April 15, 2014, plaintiff met Monroe and his attorney, defendant Kenyatta Stewart, at WPMC. The matter was adjourned, and plaintiff, defendant, and Monroe discussed the best way to resolve the outstanding summonses. Plaintiff did not retain defendant as her attorney or request that he represent her; nor did defendant bill plaintiff or enter into a fee agreement with her. Nevertheless, he indicated to plaintiff that the optimal resolution would be for her to plead guilty to the charges because Monroe was at greater risk of license suspension due to his poor driving record. Plaintiff worked in the Passaic probation department since 1994. The parties disputed the extent to which defendant advised plaintiff of certain risks associated with the plea agreement. It was undisputed that defendant failed to advise plaintiff of the impact that a guilty plea might have on her public employment. In July 2014, plaintiff, through different counsel, challenged her conviction; ultimately the disposition against her was vacated, her fines were repaid to her, and the charges against plaintiff were dismissed. Plaintiff ultimately filed a complaint against defendant, alleging he breached a duty of care by “engaging in a clear conflict of interest” and urging her to enter into “unwarranted guilty pleas.” Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was not the proximate cause of plaintiff’s harm because any discipline from her employer resulted from her failure to notify, not her conviction. Judgment was entered in defendant's favor. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding a jury should have decided whether defendant’s legal advice was a substantial factor in plaintiff's demotion and suspension. View "Gilbert v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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In this personal injury action, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants - the City of New Haven and one of its police officers, Nikki Curry - holding that the trial court incorrectly determined that Defendants were entitled to governmental immunity for discretionary acts pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 52-557n(a)(2)(B).On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in determining that Curry's decision to drive her vehicle into oncoming traffic was a discretionary act, rather than a ministerial act, because Curry's actions violated policies imposing ministerial duties regarding the operation of police vehicles, pursuits, and roadblocks. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that the trial court improperly granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on discretionary immunity grounds. View "Cole v. City of New Haven" on Justia Law

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After initially disputing that a corrections officer was permanently and totally disabled from injuries suffered at work, the State conceded his disability status. The parties did not enter into a written settlement or stipulation because they disagreed about the amount of attorney’s fees the State should pay the officer’s attorney. After a hearing the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board awarded attorney’s fees under AS 23.30.145(a) in two parts: it awarded a specific amount of fees for work up to the time of the hearing and statutory minimum fees of 10% of ongoing benefits as long as the officer received permanent total disability benefits. The State appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, which affirmed the Board’s decision because in the Commission’s view the award was not manifestly unreasonable. The State then appealed the Commission’s decision to us. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission. View "Alaska Department of Corrections v. Wozniak" on Justia Law

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The primary issue in consolidated appeals was the scope of an automobile insurance policy’s arbitration provision. Two insureds with identical Allstate Insurance Company medical payments and uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) insurance coverage settled with their respective at-fault drivers for applicable liability insurance policy limits and then made medical payments and UIM benefits claims to Allstate. Allstate and the insureds were unable to resolve the UIM claims and went to arbitration as the policy required. The arbitration panels initially answered specific questions submitted about the insureds’ accident-related damages. At the insureds’ requests but over Allstate’s objections, the panels later calculated what the panels believed Allstate ultimately owed the insureds under their medical payments and UIM coverages and issued final awards. Allstate filed superior court suits to confirm the initial damages calculations, reject the final awards as outside the arbitration panels’ authority, and have the court determine the total amounts payable to the insureds under their policies. The judge assigned to both suits affirmed the final arbitration awards; Allstate appealed both decisions. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the arbitration panels had no authority to determine anything beyond the insureds’ damages arising from their accidents and because Allstate withheld its consent for the panels to determine anything else, the Court reversed the superior court’s decisions and judgments. The Supreme Court also reversed some aspects of the superior court’s separate analysis and rulings on legal issues that the panels improperly decided. Given (1) the arbitration panels’ damages calculations and (2) the Supreme Court's clarification of legal issues presented, the cases were remanded for the superior court to determine the amount, if any, Allstate had to pay each insured under their medical payments and UIM coverages. View "Allstate Insurance Company v. Harbour" on Justia Law

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Inna Khodorkovskaya sued the director and the playwright of Kleptocracy, a play that ran for a month in 2019 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. She alleged false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Inna, who was a character in Kleptocracy, alleges that the play falsely depicted her as a prostitute and murderer. Inna’s husband was persecuted because of his opposition to Vladimir Putin; the two obtained asylum in the U.K.The district court dismissed her complaint, reasoning that Kleptocracy is a fictional play, even if inspired by historical events, and that the play employed various dramatic devices underscoring its fictional character so that no reasonable audience member would understand the play to communicate that the real-life Inna was a prostitute or murderer. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. “Kleptocracy is not journalism; it is theater. It is, in particular, a theatrical production for a live audience, a genre in which drama and dramatic license are generally the coin of the realm.” The play’s use of a fictional and metaphorical tiger, of Vladimir Putin reciting poetry, and of a ghost reinforce to the reasonable audience member that the play’s contents cannot be taken literally. View "Khodorkovskaya v. Gay" on Justia Law

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Stacie Murray was driving home from work in the northbound lane on Highway 35 in Scott County, Mississippi. Kevin Parker, while in the course and scope of his employment with James Gray d/b/a Gray Trucking (Gray), was driving a fully loaded log truck in the southbound lane. The two vehicles collided. Murray sued Parker and Gray alleging she suffered personal injuries and property damage as a result of Parker’s negligence. The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review centered on whether allowing cross-examination of an expert witness with the accident report and a judicial opinion from another case amounted to reversible error. The Court also considered whether cumulative error required a new trial. James Hannah testified for Murray as an expert in accident reconstruction. Hannah testified that he visited the accident scene about two months after the accident and found a “gouge mark” in the highway that, in his opinion, indicated the area of impact. Hannah admitted that the highway patrolman who investigated the wreck, Trooper Greg Lucas, did not find or photograph a gouge mark. Hannah also admitted that he did not know whether the gouge mark was actually caused by the collision. Gray and Parker filed a pretrial motion to exclude Hannah’s testimony and opinions regarding the alleged gouge mark. They argued that Hannah’s testimony was based on “mere speculation” and was neither relevant nor reliable. But the trial court denied the motion and allowed Hannah to testify about the gouge mark. Over Murray’s objections, defense counsel cross-examined Hannah regarding the Uniform Crash Report (UCR) (i.e., the accident report) that Trooper Lucas prepared after the accident. The jury returned a nine-to-three verdict in favor of Gray and Parker. Murray filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. The Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals properly concluded that “[b]ecause Trooper Lucas was not qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction, his opinions on the paths of the subject vehicles and fault did not satisfy Rule 803(8)’s trustworthiness requirement. Accordingly, the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the UCR’s narrative and diagram.” Further, the Court of Appeal properly concluded the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the cross-examination of Hannah because “it had no relevance to the present case and yet created a risk of unfair prejudice, misleading the jury, and confusing the issues.” The Court found Murray was entitled to a new trial. View "Murray v. James Gray d/b/a Gray Trucking" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's reduction of a damages award in favor of Appellant in a medical negligence case against University Physician Associates (UPA) and various physicians (collectively, the Physicians), holding that the circuit court did not err.Appellant filed this lawsuit alleging that the Physicians acted negligently in the Caesarean delivery of her child and in her postpartum care. The jury allocated 100 percent of fault to the Physicians and awarded $30,000 in past economic damages, $300,000 in past non-economic damages, and $700,000 in future non-economic damages. The circuit court concluded that Mo. Rev. Stat. 538.210.2(2)'s non-economic damages for catastrophic personal injury applied and reduced the non-economic damages award from $1 million to $748,828. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 538.210's non-economic damage caps do not violate Mo. Const. art. I, 22(a); and (2) the Physicians' points on appeal lacked merit. View "Ordinola Velazquez v. University Physician Associates" on Justia Law

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Two former employees of Michael Morse and his firm, Michael J. Morse, PC, sued Morse for workplace sexual harassment, including sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligence, gross negligence, and wanton and willful misconduct; and civil conspiracy. In both cases, the firm moved to dismiss and compel arbitration on the basis that both women signed the firm’s Mandatory Dispute Resolution Procedure agreement (MDRPA) prior to accepting employment with the firm. The trial court granted defendants' motion in each case, concluding that the arbitration agreement was valid and enforceable and that the claims were related to the employees' employment and therefore subject to arbitration. A majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiffs’ claims of sexual assault were not subject to arbitration because sexual assault was not “related to” plaintiffs’ employment. Further, the Court of Appeals stated that the fact that the alleged assaults would not have occurred but for plaintiffs’ employment with the firm did not provide a sufficient nexus between the terms of the arbitration agreement and the alleged sexual assaults. "Defendants noted certain facts that supported connections between plaintiffs’ claims and their employment, including that the alleged assaults occurred at work or work-related functions. But those facts did not necessarily make plaintiffs’ claims relative to employment; rather, the facts had to be evaluated under a standard that distinguished claims relative to employment from claims not relative to employment. This analysis prevents the absurdity of an arbitration clause that bars the parties from litigating any matter, regardless of how unrelated to the substance of the agreement, and it ensures that the mere existence of a contract does not mean that every dispute between the parties is arbitrable. Neither the circuit courts nor the Court of Appeals considered this standard when evaluating defendants’ motions to compel arbitration." Rather than apply this newly adopted approach in the first instance, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Court of Appeals and remanded the cases to the circuit courts so that those courts could analyze defendants’ motions to compel arbitration by determining which of plaintiffs’ claims could be maintained without reference to the contract or employment relationship. View "Lichon v. Morse" on Justia Law

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The defendant-employer, Steel Technologies, Inc., asked the Michigan Supreme Court to consider whether a medical professional’s conclusory declaration of a claimant’s total disability, without more, could provide competent, material, and substantial evidence of “disability,” as defined by the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq. The Supreme Court declined to do so because under the facts of this case, it was unnecessary to reach that issue. The Court instead vacated Part IV of the Court of Appeals’ opinion discussing the issue, but affirmed its result: the magistrate relied on competent, material, and substantial evidence to find that the plaintiff-claimant, Ahmed Omer, had established a disability and was entitled to wage-loss benefits. View "Omer v. Steel Technologies Inc." on Justia Law