Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Ex parte Jeffrey Varoff.
After Clifford Bufford, an employee of Borbet Alabama, Inc., injured his left arm in a workplace accident, he sued seven of his co-employees claiming that his injury was the result of their willful conduct. The co-employees sought summary judgment, arguing that they were immune from suit under Alabama's Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act") because, they said, there was no evidence to support Bufford's claims. Bufford voluntarily dismissed his claims against all the defendants except the petitioner, maintenance supervisor Jeffrey Varoff. The circuit court then denied Varoff's motion for summary judgment. He petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to enter judgment in his favor on the basis of the immunity afforded by the Act. We grant the petition and issue the writ. The Supreme Court concurred there was not evidence in the trial court record that would support a finding that Varoff had engaged in willful conduct as that term was described in § 25-5-11(c). The Court held Varoff was immune from liability under § 25-5- 53. Accordingly, the trial court erred by denying Varoff's motion for summary judgment. His petition was therefore granted, and the trial court directed to vacate its order denying Varoff's motion. View "Ex parte Jeffrey Varoff." on Justia Law
Progressive Direct Ins. Co. v. Keen, et al.
Progressive Direct Insurance Company ("Progressive") appealed a circuit court order granting a motion for a partial summary judgment filed by Madison Keen and joined by Robert Creller and Alfa Mutual Insurance Company ("Alfa"); the trial court certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. In September 2019, Keen was involved in a motor-vehicle accident. She sought compensation from Creller, who was the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident. The vehicle Creller was driving was owned by his parents and was insured by Alfa. The evidence suggested that Creller and his spouse were living with Creller's parents at the time of the accident. Alfa paid Keen the limits of the insurance policy, and Keen executed a settlement agreement and a release in favor of Creller and Alfa. In June 2021, Keen filed the lawsuit at issue here seeking underinsured-motorist benefits from two different policies, namely, a policy issued by Progressive covering the vehicle Keen was driving at the time of the accident and a policy issued by State Farm Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") covering a second vehicle in Keen's household. Because Keen was driving the vehicle insured by Progressive at the time of the accident, her Progressive underinsured-motorist coverage was the primary insurance and the State Farm underinsured-motorist coverage was the secondary insurance. During the litigation, Creller was deposed and revealed the existence of an additional insurance policy covering his spouse's vehicle, which had been issued by Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") and which identified Creller as a named insured. The discovery of the Allstate policy raised the possibility that Creller might have had additional liability insurance coverage that could have compensated Keen for her injuries. Based on the alleged existence of additional insurance benefits, she asserted that there had been a mutual mistake among the parties to the settlement agreement and the release. Keen eventually moved for partial summary judgment, arguing the Allstate policy did not provide coverage. For its part, Progressive opposed Keen's motion, because the availability of benefits under the Allstate policy might affect Progressive's interests with respect to Keen's underinsured- motorist claim. The trial court granted Keen's motion and certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54(b). Progressive appealed. Because it appeared there was a question of fact based on the evidence before the trial court existed when it entered the partial summary judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed that judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Progressive Direct Ins. Co. v. Keen, et al." on Justia Law
Brown Heating & Cooling v. Williams
T&J White, LLC, d/b/a Brown Heating & Cooling ("Brown Heating & Cooling"), and its employee, Bobby Morse ("the defendants"), appealed a circuit court’s denial of their motions seeking a judgment as a matter of law ("JML") and a new trial following the entry of judgment on a jury verdict against the defendants and in favor of the plaintiff, Timothy Williams. Morse, while engaged as an employee of Brown Heating & Cooling, rear-ended Williams in a motor-vehicle collision. Thereafter, Williams filed a complaint asserting, among other things, negligence and wantonness claims against the defendants. The case proceeded to trial. After the trial court instructed the jury but before the jury retired, counsel for the parties discussed the verdict form and the jury instructions that had been given. Ultimately, the defendants requested, and received, an additional blank line on the verdict form to allow the jury to award compensatory/nominal damages with respect to the wantonness claim; this additional line was placed just before the line for an award of punitive damages. The court then read the final verdict form to the jurors, and no objections were made. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Williams, awarding the following: $500,000 in compensatory damages for negligence, $250,000 in compensatory damages for wantonness, and $750,000 in punitive damages for wantonness. After the jury was polled, defense counsel orally renewed its motion for a JML based on, among other grounds, the alleged insufficiency of the evidence of wantonness and alleged inconsistency of the verdict. The court denied the motion, concluded the trial proceedings, and entered a final judgment on the verdict. The defendants, appealing the denial of a JML on the wantonness claim and that the trial court exceeded its discretion by denying their motion for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Brown Heating & Cooling v. Williams" on Justia Law
Ex parte CSX Transportation, Inc.
Christopher Ellis worked for CSX Transportation, Inc. as a remote-control foreman at CSX's Montgomery yard. While riding on the ladder of a railcar during the course of his employment with CSX, Ellis was struck in the torso by the broken door handle and latch assembly of a railcar on an adjacent track. The impact of the blow knocked Ellis off the railcar on which he was riding, causing him to suffer significant injuries. On November 17, 2020, Ellis sued CSX asserting claims under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), and the Safety Appliance Act ("the SAA"). Ellis propounded 25 multipart interrogatories and 62 requests for production to CSX with his complaint. CSX petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Montgomery Circuit Court to, among other things, vacate its order granting Ellis's motion to compel discovery and either enter an order denying Ellis's motion to compel or a protective order barring production of materials CSX contends to be protected work product or patently irrelevant. The Supreme Court granted the petition for mandamus relief in part and directed the trial court to vacate its order to the extent that it requires the production of materials contained in the company's risk management system ("RMS") in violation of the work-product doctrine. The Court denied the petition in all other respects. View "Ex parte CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte Premier Plastic Surgery, P.C.
Premier Plastic Surgery, P.C. ("Premier") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order denying Premier's motion for a change of venue in this medical-malpractice action brought by plaintiff Deborah Bush, and to enter an order transferring the action to the Shelby Circuit Court. Premier offered cosmetic and reconstructive surgery at its medical facility located in Shelby County. Bush went to Premier's medical facility to receive a consultation from Dr. Peter Van Hoy. It is undisputed that all of Bush's treatment by Dr. Van Hoy occurred at Premier's medical facility. In December 2017, Dr. Van Hoy died. Because he was Premier's sole shareholder, director, and owner, Premier was dissolved in September 2018. In June 2019, Bush filed suit at the Jefferson Circuit Court relating to her surgical procedure and treatment by Dr. Van Hoy. Bush's complaint also alleged that she was a resident of Jefferson County. Premier denied all allegations and argued that because the surgical procedure and treatment at issue in Bush's action occurred at Premier's medical facility in Shelby County, venue was proper in Shelby County. In her response to Premier's motion, Bush did not dispute that Shelby County was the proper venue for the action. Instead, she argued that because Premier's motion was filed almost three years after the litigation began and only three weeks before the scheduled trial, the motion cannot be deemed timely. The Supreme Court concurred that Premier's challenge to venue had been waived and denied the petition for mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Premier Plastic Surgery, P.C." on Justia Law
Blackburn v. Shire U.S., Inc., et al.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified a question of law to the Alabama Supreme Court. Dr. Dino Ferrante, a gastroenterologist, prescribed LIALDA, which is manufactured by Shire U.S., Inc., and Shire, LLC (referred to collectively as "Shire"), to help patient Mark Blackburn with his Crohn's disease. "LIALDA is the brand name for Shire's mesalamine drug, which is an anti-inflammatory drug specifically aimed at the gut. LIALDA is not approved by the FDA to treat Crohn's, but it is approved to treat ulcerative colitis, Crohn's 'sister' disease." After taking LIALDA for between 12 to 16 months, Blackburn discovered that he had developed kidney disease, specifically advanced chronic interstitial nephritis, which had resulted in irreversible scarring and had diminished his kidney function to 20% of normal capacity. As a result, Blackburn is awaiting a kidney transplant. The federal appellate court asked: (1) consistent with the learned intermediary doctrine, may a pharmaceutical company's duty to warn include a duty to provide instructions about how to mitigate warned-of risks?; and (2) might a plaintiff establish that a failure to warn caused his injuries by showing that his doctor would have adopted a different course of testing or mitigation, even though he would have prescribed the same drug? The Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative. View "Blackburn v. Shire U.S., Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte American Cast Iron Pipe Company.
American Cast Iron Pipe Company ("ACIPCO") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court to review the Court of Civil Appeals' decision to reverse a circuit court's dismissal of a workers' compensation action. Suit was filed by Karene Stricklin against ACIPCO who alleged her ward and conservatee, John Gray, sustained injuries while an ACIPCO employee. The Supreme Court granted the petition to consider, as a matter of first impression, whether Article II of the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act ("the ombudsman-program article"), which encompassed § 25-5-290 through § 25-5-294, Ala. Code 1975, precluded an action seeking to have a benefit-review agreement declared void ab initio on the basis of a signatory's mental incompetency when that action was not commenced so as to comply with the 60-day period set forth in § 25-5-292(b), Ala. Code 1975. To this, the Court concluded that it did not, and, thus, affirmed the Court of Civil Appeals' decision. View "Ex parte American Cast Iron Pipe Company." on Justia Law
Ex parte Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Inc., et al.
Robert Owen died 11 days after being transferred from Huntsville Hospital to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital ("UAB Hospital") for cardiac treatment. His widow Gloria Owen, as the personal representative of his estate, sued the ambulance company that had transported him, Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Inc. ("HEMSI"), as well as HEMSI employees Jacob Steele, Calvin Hui, Christopher Nunley, and Dea Calce, alleging that events that occurred during Robert's transport had "caused him unnecessary stress, worry, concern, anxiety, and/or a delay in treatment," leading to further heart damage and his eventual death. During discovery, Gloria sought information from the HEMSI defendants about the previous conduct and employment record of Steele, a licensed emergency medical technician ("EMT") and the assigned driver of the HEMSI ambulance that transported Robert. The HEMSI defendants objected to Gloria's requests and sought a protective order, arguing that the Alabama Medical Liability Act ("the AMLA") governed her claims and prohibited discovery related to any acts and omissions of a defendant that were not specifically described in the complaint. The circuit court rejected the HEMSI defendants' request for a protective order and directed them to produce the requested discovery; they petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, specifically a writ directing the trial court to amend its order to give effect to what they claimed were the applicable privilege and discovery protections of the AMLA. The Supreme Court granted the petition in part, and denied in part. The Court held all claims asserted by Gloria in this action were governed by the AMLA and subject to the limitations on discovery imposed by § 6-5-551. To the extent that the trial court's October 2021 order did not give effect to the § 6-5-551 privilege, the HEMSI defendants' petition was granted and the trial court was directed to modify that order. But to the extent the HEMSI defendants sought to prevent Gloria from discovering information regarding acts or omissions that were specifically alleged and described in her complaint, their petition was denied. View "Ex parte Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Avendano v. Shaw
This case stemmed from the serial fraud of Brandy Murrah, the former owner of a drug-screening laboratory who was in prison for falsifying test results. The plaintiffs, Angel Avendano and Sandy Knowles, claimed to be victims of Murrah's fraud and alleged that social worker Victoria Shaw conspired with Murrah to falsify the results of their drug tests. Shaw moved to dismiss the claims against her, and the circuit court granted that motion. Avendano and Knowles appealed. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that Avendano and Knowles's complaint stated some viable claims against Shaw, it affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Avendano v. Shaw" on Justia Law
Ball Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Flennory
Ball Healthcare Services, Inc. ("Ball Healthcare"), appealed a circuit court order denying its motion to compel arbitration in Ledell Flennory's wrongful-death suit against it. Because the Alabama Supreme Court determined Flennory did not meet his burden of rebutting Ball Healthcare's evidence that an enforceable arbitration agreement existed, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ball Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Flennory" on Justia Law