Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries
Hardeman v. Monsanto Co.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of plaintiff in an action alleging that Monsanto's pesticide, Roundup, caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This appeal arises out of the first bellwether trial for the federal cases consolidated in a multidistrict litigation. After the jury awarded plaintiff $5,267,634.10 in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages, the district court reduced the jury's punitive damages award to $20 million.The panel held that plaintiff's state failure-to-warn claims are not preempted by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA); the district court ultimately applied the correct standard from Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and did not abuse its discretion in admitting plaintiff's expert testimony; the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the International Agency for Research on Cancer's classification glyphosate as probably carcinogenic and three regulatory rejections of that classification but excluding evidence from other regulatory bodies; the district court's jury instruction on causation, though erroneous, was harmless; Monsanto was properly denied judgment as a matter of law because evidence shows the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate was knowable at the time of plaintiff's exposure; and evidence supports a punitive damages award, punitive damages were properly reduced, and the reduced award—while close to the outer limits—is constitutional. View "Hardeman v. Monsanto Co." on Justia Law
Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Plaintiff-appellant Thomas Standish was injured when his right ski struck a six-and-a-half-foot stump covered with freshly fallen snow skiing in an ungroomed area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. stump covered with freshly fallen snow. Standish and his wife brought a negligence lawsuit against Jackson Hole to recover for his injuries. Jackson Hole moved for summary judgment, contending the Wyoming Recreation Safety Act (WRSA) limited Jackson Hole’s liability because Standish’s injury was a result of an “inherent risk” of alpine skiing. The district court granted summary judgment, finding that a tree stump covered by fresh snow was an inherent risk of skiing for which the WRSA precluded liability. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed and affirmed the district court’s conclusion. View "Standish v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort" on Justia Law
Shell v. Butcher
Irvin Shell, as administrator of the estate of Annie Ruth Peterson, deceased ("the estate"), appealed separate summary judgments entered in favor of Montgomery-municipal jail employees Terri Butcher and Shayla Payne, respectively, on the basis of State-agent immunity. Annie Peterson was arrested for driving under the influence "of any substance" and transported to the municipal jail. Peterson was not actually under the influence of an intoxicating substance at the time of her arrest; rather, she was suffering from a hemorrhagic stroke. She remained in jail overnight; when jail officers went to retrieve Peterson from her cell, she was weak, “drowsy” and appeared ill. This information was relayed to a jail nurse; the nurse in turn contacted a doctor, who instructed jail staff to transport Peterson to the emergency room. After the bonding process was complete, Peterson was released to a family member who transported Peterson to a local hospital where she was diagnosed with having suffered a stroke; she died three days later on April 16, 2013. The estate sued Butcher and Payne in their individual capacities, alleging that they had been negligent and wanton in failing to obtain medical care for Peterson in a timely manner. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the estate did not demonstrate the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Butcher and Payne based on State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgments were affirmed. View "Shell v. Butcher" on Justia Law
Wickersham v. Ford Motor Co.
Wickersham filed suit against Ford, alleging that Wickersham's Ford Escape airbag system was defective and seeking various damages. Wickersham's claims stemmed from John Wickersham's accident in his Ford Escape that left him with serious injuries. The pain from John's injuries was difficult to control, he struggled to maintain his employment as a pharmacist after the accident, and committed suicide almost a year and a half after his accident. Ford moved for summary judgment, arguing in relevant part that the company was not liable for Wickersham's wrongful-death action because any defective design could not be the proximate cause of Wickersham’s death by suicide under South Carolina law. The district court denied Ford's motion for summary judgment and a jury subsequently found in favor of Wickersham as to all claims.The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment as to Wickersham's wrongful-death action where there is no presumption in South Carolina that a death by suicide is unforeseeable as a matter of law and the district court must first decide whether John's suicide was "unforeseeable as a matter of law." If not, the jury must then consider foreseeability as well as causation-in-fact. Because the district court rejected traditional proximate-cause principles and did not appear to have explicitly analyzed the foreseeability of John's death by suicide, the court cannot be certain that the district court's analysis comports with South Carolina law. Considering the unique procedural posture of this case, the court believed that the most prudent course is to remand for the district court to reconsider its Rule 50(b) motion under the proper legal framework. Furthermore, a properly instructed jury could have found that John's death was unforeseeable to Ford, especially given the difficulty of establishing such a connection, and the district court's improper instruction seriously prejudiced Ford. The court also vacated the resulting $2.75 million damages awards to Wickersham's estate and Crystal Wickersham. The court affirmed the district court's judgment in all other respects. View "Wickersham v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law
Hester v. Walker et al.
Bryant Walker was employed as an eighteen-wheeler tractor-trailer driver for BlueLinx Corporation (“BlueLinx”). Walker was attempting to make a left turn into the driveway of BlueLinx’s facility: he activated his left turn signal, and stopped his tractor-trailer in the left lane, approximately sixty feet from a break in the median, in order to wait for another vehicle to exit the driveway. Before Walker could make his turn, his tractor-trailer was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by Kunta Hester. Hester died as a result of the accident. Hester’s survivors filed the instant suit against Walker, BlueLinx, and its insurer, alleging defendants breached their duty to Hester because Walker negligently stopped his vehicle on a public roadway in violation of La. R.S. 32:141(A). At issue in this case was whether defendants violated any duty to plaintiffs under the provisions of La. R.S. 32:141(A), which prohibited the stopping or parking of a vehicle in the travelled portion of a roadway. The Louisiana Supreme Court concluded defendants were entitled to summary judgment: plaintiffs failed to rebut the presumption that Hester was at fault for the accident. View "Hester v. Walker et al." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Purpera
This case involved a defamation claim brought by the executive director of a public agency against the State of Louisiana and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor arising out of statements appearing in two audit reports and the summaries which accompanied the release of those audit reports. Plaintiff claimed the audits cast his conduct in connection with his duties at the agency in a defamatory light. The defendants moved for summary judgment, but the district court denied the motion, finding the existence of genuine issues of material fact. The court of appeal denied writs. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari, primarily to determine whether the lower courts erred in concluding that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment. Finding there were no genuine issues of material fact, and that the questions presented were all questions of law, the Supreme Court further found that the statements were not actionable as a matter of law, but rather statements of opinion relating to matters of public concern that did not carry a provably false factual connotation. As such, the statements were entitled to full constitutional protection. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the lower courts and granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Johnson v. Purpera" on Justia Law
Williams v. Foremost Ins. Co. et al.
Plaintiff filed suit against two defendants: a property owner and her alleged liability insurer. The insurer was served with the petition, but plaintiff withheld service on the property owner. The insurer filed an answer on its own behalf within three years of suit being filed, but no action was taken in the suit by any party relative to the property owner within that three years. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to determine whether plaintiff’s action against the property owner was abandoned pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 561(A)(1). The court of appeal found the filing of an answer by the insurer within the three-year abandonment period was effective to interrupt the abandonment period as to the property owner. The Supreme Court held the filing of the insurer’s answer did not serve to interrupt the abandonment period as to the property owner; therefore the appellate court was reversed because plaintiff’s original action against the property owner was abandoned by operation of law. However, the Court found plaintiff’s underlying claims against the property owner, that were subsequently reasserted by amended petition, were not necessarily prescribed due to the potential interruption of prescription resulting from the pending suit against an alleged solidary obligor. Because a determination regarding prescription could not be made based on the existing record, the court of appeal’s ruling on the property owner’s exception of prescription was affirmed, and the matter remanded to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on that exception. View "Williams v. Foremost Ins. Co. et al." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Liquor & Cannabis Bd.
On a rainy day in 2011, Darcy Johnson, a business invitee at a Washington State Liquor Control Board liquor store, slipped and fell in the entryway to that store, just after entering. A jury returned a verdict for Johnson. The Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that the trial court should have granted the State’s motion for a judgment as a matter of law because Johnson had not satisfied the notice requirement in a premises liability action. The Washington Supreme Court granted review to resolve whether the reasonable foreseeability exception to the notice requirement applied. The Court held that the exception applied. The Court therefore reversed and remanded to the Court of Appeals. View "Johnson v. Liquor & Cannabis Bd." on Justia Law
Hughes v. Dakota Mill & Grain
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court reversing the decision of the Department of Labor denying Taylor Hughes's workers' compensation claim for an alleged work-related back injury, holding that the circuit court correctly held that Hughes was entitled to recover for his injury.After a hearing, the Department determined that Hughes had not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that his disability was caused by a workplace injury and that his work activities were a major contributing cause of his disability. The circuit court reversed, determining (1) the Department erred by applying the incorrect standard to the causation of the injury, and (2) the Department's finding that Hughes failed to establish causation was clearly erroneous. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly overturned the Department's decision because Hughes proved by a preponderance of the evidence that his injury was work-related and that his employment was a major contributing cause of his current condition. View "Hughes v. Dakota Mill & Grain" on Justia Law
Zander, et al. v. Morsette
Jordan Morsette appealed an amended judgment ordering him to pay $242 million in compensatory damages and $885 million in punitive damages to Plaintiffs Shayna Monson; Lee Zander, individually and on behalf of Taylor Goven, deceased; and Jason Renschler, individually and on behalf of Abby Renschler, deceased. In June 2015, while driving on the wrong side of the Bismarck Expressway, Morsette’s vehicle collided head on with Monson’s vehicle. Monson suffered serious bodily injuries, and Goven and Renschler died at the crash scene. Morsette’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.295 percent at the time of the collision. The Plaintiffs sued Morsette for negligence, seeking damages for their injuries. Morsette answered and admitted liability for the accident. The Plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to add a punitive damages claim, alleging Morsette’s conduct was oppressive and malicious. The district court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion, finding they “met the threshold of malice necessary to amend the complaint to request punitive damages.” Morsette argued the district court erred in admitting evidence of his intoxication, erred in its instructions to the jury, and erred by granting the Plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint to add a punitive damages claim. Morsette also argued the jury’s verdict was excessive. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the amended judgment, finding the district court erred by admitting irrelevant evidence, failing to properly instruct the jury, and in concluding there was sufficient evidence to support a punitive damages claim. The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "Zander, et al. v. Morsette" on Justia Law