Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

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Patricia Guadalupe Garcia Cervantes, a Mexican citizen who was attempting to enter the United States illegally by swimming across the Brownsville Ship Channel, was struck and killed by a Coast Guard vessel patrolling the area. Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of his and Cervantes' daughter, filed suit alleging negligence and wrongful death claims against the United States, as well as products liability, gross negligence, and wrongful death claims against the manufacturers of the vessel and its engines, Safe Boats and Mercury Marine.After determining that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction based on admiralty, the Fifth Circuit concluded that, notwithstanding plaintiff's own lack of standing, he may still maintain claims as next-of-friend for his daughter. Reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment and its duty determination de novo, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court held that the negligence claim failed because the United States owed no duty to Cervantes; the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's defective design claims against Safe Boats and Mercury Marine where Cervantes lacked standing to bring those claims under Section 402A of the Second Restatement in regard to maritime products liability claims; even assuming plaintiff could bring these products liability claims, plaintiff failed to show that the asserted defective products proximately caused Cervantes' death; plaintiff's failure-to-warn claims were also properly dismissed; and the district court correctly dismissed the wrongful death claims after dismissing all the underlying tort claims. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims and affirmed the dismissal. View "Ortega Garcia v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying Philip Morris's motion for a new trial or to reduce the punitive damages award in favor of Judith Berger, concluding that the punitive damages award is not unconstitutionally excessive and does not violate due process. In this case, a jury awarded Judith $6.25 million in compensatory damages and approximately $20.7 million in punitive damages for smoking-related injuries. The court concluded that Philip Morris's argument that the punitive damages award is unconstitutionally excessive is not barred by the court's decision in Cote I. The court also concluded that the punitive damages award is not unconstitutionally excessive in light of the degree of reprehensibility of Philip Morris's conduct; the ratio of the punitive damages award to the actual or potential harm suffered by Judith; and the difference between the punitive damages award and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases. View "Cote v. Philip Morris USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this appeal arising out of a lawsuit for damages that Plaintiff brought against three defendants in connection with the drowning deaths of her husband and son, the First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing the suit based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens, holding that dismissal was not warranted.Plaintiff named as defendants Marriott International, Inc.; Marriott Worldwide Corporation; and Reluxicorp, Inc., the Marriott franchisee in Montreal where the drowning occurred. The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts found personal jurisdiction over Defendants but dismissed it based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens, concluding that an adequate alternative forum was available in Canada. The First Circuit reversed in part, holding (1) the district court correctly denied Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction; but (2) the district court erred in granting Defendant's motion to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds. View "Nandjou v. Marriott International, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System ("HCA"), and The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System d/b/a Prattville Baptist Hospital (collectively, "the HCA entities"), appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by Leonidas Dickson, II. In 2015, Dickson sustained injuries as a result of an automobile accident. Following the accident, Dickson was taken to Prattville Baptist Hospital ("PBH"), where he was treated and discharged. Dickson was partially covered by a health-insurance policy issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Inc. ("BCBS"). PBH was a party to a "Preferred Outpatient Facility Contract" ("the provider agreement") with BCBS, under which the medical care rendered to Dickson in the emergency department at PBH was reimbursable. In 2017, Dickson filed a complaint to challenge a reimbursement that PBH had received in exchange for Dickson's medical treatment. Dickson's complaint also sought to certify a class of people who were insured by BCBS and who had received care at any hospital operated by HCA's predecessor, Baptist Health, Inc. ("BHI"). After the HCA entities' motion to dismiss was denied, the HCA entities filed an answer to the lawsuit, but the answer did not raise arbitration as a defense. After a year of extensive discovery (including class certification and class-related discovery), the HCA entities moved to compel arbitration on grounds that Dickson's health-insurance policy with BCBS required all claims related to the policy to be arbitrated and that the provider agreement also provided for arbitration, contingent upon the arbitration requirements of the BCBS policy. The trial court denied the motion to compel without providing a reason for the denial. After a request for reconsideration was also denied, the HCA entities appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the HCA entities waived their right to arbitration, thus affirming the trial court order. View "The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Dickson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Milton Town School District and plaintiff, a high-school football player who sued the District after being assaulted by team members during an off-campus team dinner at the residence of one of the players, both appealed various trial court rulings and the jury’s verdict in favor of plaintiff following a five-day trial. Plaintiff sued the District in 2017 claiming negligent supervision and a violation of the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA) in connection with his assault at the hands of fellow football team members at an on off-campus dinner in the fall of 2012. At that time, Plaintiff was a freshman, and the District was aware that members of the football team had a history of harassment, including sexual assaults and hazing, against underclassmen team members. In October 2012, nine or ten members of the team, including plaintiff, attended a team dinner at one of the player’s parents’ home. At some point that evening, plaintiff was dragged down to the basement and thrown onto a couch, where one player held plaintiff down while another player forcibly inserted a pool cue into plaintiff’s rectum. The school principal spoke to plaintiff and another football player after learning that some incoming freshman did not want to play football because they had heard rumors of team members using broomsticks to initiate new team members. When the principal told plaintiff that she would shut down the football program if the rumors proved to be true, plaintiff denied the rumors because he feared retaliation from other students for causing the football program to be shut down. The principal then directed plaintiff to speak to the incoming freshman and tell him he had lied about the use of broomsticks during the initiation of new team members. When the principal informed the district superintendent about the rumors, the superintendent declined to do anything further. In April 2014, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) opened an investigation into allegations concerning the Milton High School football team. The Chittenden County State’s Attorney later filed criminal charges against five Milton High School football players, including plaintiff’s attackers, all of whom pled guilty to criminal offenses related to harassment, hazing, and assault. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Blondin v. Milton Town School District et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the determination of the trial court that Jane Doe could compel her legal guardian (Guardian) to arbitrate her claims against it and affirmed the trial court's order compelling Guardian to arbitrate as to the remaining defendants, holding that this Court declines to adopt any alternative theories to the doctrine of equitable estoppel.After Jane had been living at Carmel Senior Living (CSL) for a few months, Guardian filed a complaint against CSL, CSL's management company and one of its employees, and Certiphi Screening, the company CSL had hired to run background checks on new employees, alleging that Jane had been sexually abused. The trial court granted CSL's and Certiphi's motions to compel arbitration under the arbitration agreement in the residency contract, determining that the agreement covered CSL under and agency theory and that equitable estoppel mandated arbitration of Guardian's claims against Certiphi. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Certiphi was not one of the third-party beneficiaries provided for in the arbitration agreement and could not meet the requirements of equitable estoppel; and (2) this Court declines to endorse any alternative equitable estoppel theories. View "Doe v. Carmel Operator, LLC" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment against Plaintiff, acting as the personal representative of the estate of Ambrosia Fagre (Amber), on claims related to Amber's death, holding that the district court did not err when it granted Trooper Jeffrey Parks's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim.Plaintiff's complaint alleged use of excessive force against Amber in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under section 1983 and use of excessive force against Amber in violation of Me. Const. art. I, 5 under the Maine Civil Rights Act, failure to protect Amber in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and negligence and wrongful death under Maine state law. The district court granted Trooper Parks's motion for summary judgment. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) summary judgment on Plaintiff's section 1983 claim was warranted, and Trooper Parks was also entitled to qualified immunity; and (2) the district court did not err by granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's state law claims because Trooper Parks was entitled to immunity under the Maine Tort Claims Act, Me. Stat. Tit. 14, 8111(1). View "Fagre v. Parks" on Justia Law

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Pamela Neppel, individually and as the parent and legal guardian of Z.N., an incapacitated individual, appealed amended judgment entered after a jury trial. She also appealed denying leave to amend her complaint, an order for an amended judgment, and an order denying her motion for attorney fees and costs. Development Homes, Inc. (DHI) cross appealed an order denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law. Z.N., at the time of the incident giving rise to this case, was living at a residential care facility operated by DHI. Neppel was Z.N.’s mother. Neppel filed this lawsuit alleging Z.N. was raped by another resident, referred to as S.O., who lived on the same floor of the facility as Z.N.’s housemate. Neppel alleged DHI had knowledge S.O. was a sexual predator and Z.N. was susceptible to abuse, yet DHI withheld information from her about the risk of placing the two together. Neppel also alleged DHI did not immediately report the rape or provide prompt and adequate medical care for Z.N. Along with DHI, Neppel sued various DHI employees, as well as S.O.’s co-guardians. The case was tried to a jury on counts of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury returned a verdict awarding Neppel and Z.N. $550,000 in damages. The jury specifically awarded Z.N. $100,000 for damages caused by DHI’s negligence. The jury also awarded Z.N. and Neppel $400,000 and $50,000 in damages, respectively, for past and future severe emotional distress caused by DHI. The jury did not find any of the individually-named defendants liable. DHI filed a motion to amend the judgment asserting it was entitled to charitable immunity under N.D.C.C. ch. 32-03.3, which set liability limits for certain charitable organizations. The court granted the motion and entered an amended judgment that applied the $250,000 charitable organization liability limit. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the order denying Neppel leave to amend her complaint and the order denying her motion for attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Court reversed the order denying DHI’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, finding Neppel’s appeal from the order for amended judgment was moot. View "Neppel, et al. v. Development Homes, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants worked on banana plantations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama. They sued the plantations in Delaware in 2012, claiming that while working on the plantations they suffered personal injuries from a pesticide known as 1, 2, Dibromo 3, Chloropropane (“DBCP”). Defendants-Appellees were numerous companies alleged to have caused the Plaintiffs’ exposure to DBCP and their resulting injuries. In 2013 the Superior Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ complaint under what was sometimes referred to as Delaware’s McWane doctrine (the “Dismissal Order”). On December 31, 2018 Plaintiffs moved to vacate the Dismissal Order under Superior Court Civil Rule 60(b)(6). The Superior Court denied the Plaintiffs’ motion, finding that the motion was untimely and Plaintiffs failed to show extraordinary circumstances for vacating the judgment. Plaintiffs have appealed that order to the Delaware Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, however, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Chaverri et al. v. Dole Food Company, et al." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured when a manlift struck her outside Harrah's Casino in New Orleans, a jury found Jazz Casino negligent, assigning it 49% of the fault. Plaintiff was awarded, among other jury awards, $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering. The Casino appealed.The Fifth Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient to support the negligent-hiring claim; the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find the Casino liable for plaintiff's injury under an operational-control theory; and the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that the Casino had authorized unsafe work practices. The court also held that none of the objected-to evidence was erroneously admitted at trial. However, the court held that the jury's $1,000,000 award for future pain, suffering, mental anguish, disability, scarring, and disfigurement was excessive. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Casino's motion for judgment as a matter of law and motion for a new trial; vacated the award for future pain and suffering; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Echeverry v. Jazz Casino Co., LLC" on Justia Law