Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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GEICO Insurance Company appealed a trial court judgment entered in favor of plaintiffs Johnson Evans, Jimmy Smith, and Bernard Smith on plaintiffs' claims for damages resulting from an automobile accident caused by GEICO's insured, Bernard Grey. GEICO argued that the April 17, 2019, judgment entered against it was void because it did not receive notice of plaintiffs' claims against it or notice of the hearing on plaintiffs' claims. For their part, plaintiffs did not dispute that GEICO never received actual notice of any action pending against it in the present case. Instead, they argued GEICO had "constructive notice of potential litigation" because it had actual notice of Grey's accident involving plaintiffs -- which occurred in 2010 -- and that GEICO was aware that plaintiffs claimed to be injured by Grey's actions. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with GEIDO that "constructive notice of potential litigation" clearly fell short of "even the most basic requirements of due process." Because it was undisputed GEICO never received notice of any claim pending against it, the April 17 judgment violated due process, and was therefore void. Because a void judgment would not support an appeal, the trial court was instructed to vacate its judgment, and GEICO's appeal was thus dismissed. View "GEICO Insurance Co. v. Evans" on Justia Law

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James Cochran, the plaintiff in an unsuccessful personal-injury action, challenged a circuit court order setting aside a $2,000,000 default judgment entered against Pilar Engelland ("Pilar") after she initially failed to respond to his complaint. In 2012, Cochran was riding his motorcycle westbound on U.S. Highway 278 in Calhoun County, Alabama when he struck a horse that had entered the road. Cochran suffered significant injuries in the accident. Cochran retained attorney James Shelnutt to pursue legal remedies against any parties responsible for the presence of the horse in the road. Cochran and Shelnutt concluded that the horse struck by Cochran had escaped from a nearby farm. The owner of the farm was ultimately identified as Pilar. Shelnutt had telephone conversations with Pilar, her son, and Jerry Coley, who was leasing the farm from Pilar at the time of Cochran's accident. It appeared that the primary purpose of those conversations was to determine whether any insurance policies existed that might provide coverage for Cochran's accident. No such policies were identified, and there was no evidence that there was any more communication between Cochran and Pilar or her son after May 2013. Cochran sued Pilar and Coley alleging their negligence had caused the 2012 accident. Cochran attempted to serve Pilar by certified mail sent to the mailing address for the farm, but the notice was returned that same month marked "return to sender, not deliverable as addressed, unable to forward." The trial court record reflected that Coley was served and that he filed an answer denying liability for Cochran's injuries. Cochran proceeded to litigate his claim against Coley for approximately the next two years until May 31, 2016, when the claim against Coley was dismissed with prejudice. The trial court entered a $2,000,000 default judgment against Pilar after Cochran served her by publication with notice of his complaint and she failed to appear and file a response. When Pilar learned of the default judgment, she successfully moved to have the judgment set aside, arguing that service by publication was not proper because she had taken no steps to avoid service of process. Concurring with the trial court judgment setting aside the $2 million judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, finding service by publication was improper. View "Cochran v. Engelland" on Justia Law

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Tania Burgess petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order transferring the underlying action to the Shelby Circuit Court. On April 22, 2019, a vehicle driven by Burgess collided with a vehicle driven by Jonathan Aaron Stephens; the accident occurred in Shelby County. Burgess sued Stephens and Patti Mollica in the Jefferson Circuit Court, alleging as to Stephens negligence and wantonness and as to Mollica negligent entrustment of her vehicle to Stephens, and seeking damages for her accident-related injuries. Burgess, Stephens, and Mollica were all Jefferson County residents. The Supreme Court concluded, after review of the trial court record, that the Jefferson Circuit Court exceeded its discretion in transferring this case to the Shelby Circuit Court. It, therefore, granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its July 29, 2019, order transferring this action to the Shelby Circuit Court. View "Ex parte Tania Burgess" on Justia Law

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Sonia Blunt, a teacher in the Tuscaloosa City Schools system ("TCS"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in her favor on the basis of State-agent immunity as to claims asserted against her by Keith Langston, as next friend and father of Joshua Langston and Matthew Langston, minors at the time the action was filed. Marcus Crawford, a student attending one of Blunt’s summer-school classes at TCS, left campus for lunch at a nearby fast food restaurant. Crawford testified it took longer to get his food order than he estimated, and hurried back to campus. Approximately one mile away on a two-lane public road, Crawford attempted to pass a vehicle in front of him by crossing a double-yellow center line and driving in the oncoming lane of traffic. In doing so, Crawford collided with a vehicle driven by Susan Kines Langston, a TCS teacher, in which Matthew Langston and Joshua Langston were passengers. Susan Langston was killed in the accident, and Matthew and Joshua were seriously injured and eventually had to be life-flighted to Children's Hospital in Birmingham. Crawford was charged, tried, and convicted of reckless manslaughter for his actions in causing Susan Langston's death. He was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison. Thereafter Keith Langston filed suit against Blunt and Patsy Lowry (another TCS teacher). Langston asserted claims of negligence and wantonness against Blunt and Lowry for failing to follow the "policies and procedures" of TCS, which failure allegedly proximately caused the injuries sustained by Matthew and Joshua Langston. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Langston failed to demonstrate the existence of a detailed rule binding upon Blunt that would establish that she acted beyond her authority in supervising students when she allowed Crawford to leave the school campus at the time and in the manner he did. Therefore, Blunt was entitled to State-agent immunity from Langston's claims of negligence and wantonness pertaining to her alleged violation of a TCS policy or procedure. View "Ex parte Sonia Blunt." on Justia Law

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Tim Tucker petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Baldwin Circuit Court to vacate its order denying his summary-judgment motion in which he contended he was entitled to State-agent immunity for all claims asserted against him by Mary Young in an action stemming from injuries Young sustained when she tripped and fell on a residential street in the City of Orange Beach ("the City") in 2015. Tucker was the public-works director for the City. In January 2015, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Young was walking her dog along Louisiana Avenue. Young testified that it was dark and that there were no street lights. Young attempted to get her dog back on the street after it had veered off the asphalt, and she then tried to step onto the street as well from the shoulder. Young's foot caught on the edge of the asphalt and she tripped and fell to the ground. Young testified that she broke her shoulder as a result of the fall and that it had to be surgically repaired. Young alleged Tucker and the public works department "breached their duty by not inspecting and correcting the significant shoulder drop offs at various locations within the City of Orange Beach, including Louisiana Avenue, at any point during or after the 2012 repaving process ...." The Supreme Court determined Young's primary argument glossed over the more than two-year gap between the completion of the 2012 repavement project and her accident in January 2015. Tucker was entitled to State-agent immunity from all claims Young asserted against him. The circuit court was therefore directed to enter a summary judgment in favor of Tucker. View "Ex parte Tim Tucker." on Justia Law

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Burkes Mechanical, Inc. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a trial court to vacate its order denying Burkes's motion to dismiss claims of negligence, wantonness, and the tort of outrage asserted against Burkes by Alexsie McCoy and to enter an order dismissing those claims. In 2018, McCoy was injured during the course of his employment as an iron worker for Burkes. McCoy and two other iron workers were working in a hot, confined space at a mill owned by International Paper Company ("IP") and were using welding torches to cut heavy metal plates in IP's debarking machine. A worker employed by another company broke a welding line, which ignited the air. McCoy sustained severe burn injuries. According to McCoy, Burkes failed to notify IP, which had an emergency-medical-response team on site to address workplace injuries. Instead, a Burkes employee sprayed an "improper substance" on McCoy to treat the injury. Rather than calling an ambulance, Burkes transported McCoy by private vehicle to a local doctor's office, which advised McCoy's injuries were too severe to be treated at his office and that McCoy needed to be taken to a hospital. A Burkes employee took McCoy to a drugstore to purchase over-the-counter burn cream and then to Grove Hill Memorial Hospital. That hospital determined that the burns were too serious to be treated there, and, as a result, McCoy was transported by ambulance to the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile, where he was hospitalized for approximately one week. Burkes filed a motion to dismiss McCoy's negligence and wantonness claims against it, asserting that the exclusivity provisions of the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act barred those claims. The Supreme Court concluded Burkes, with its reliance on a few distinguishable cases, did not demonstrate a clear legal right to have the negligence and wantonness claims against it dismissed. It agreed the tort of outrage was not pled sufficiently, but denial of a motion to dismiss was not reviewable through a petition for mandamus relief. As such, the Court denied relief. View "Ex parte Burkes Mechanical, Inc." on Justia Law

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Dow Corning Corporation, Dow Corning Alabama, Inc., Rajesh Mahadasyam, Fred McNett, Zurich American Insurance Company, and National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the trial court to vacate an order, entered in a declaratory-judgment action, requiring disclosure of what the petitioners contended was information protected by the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine and to grant their motion for a protective order. In August 2011, Scotty Blue II was injured while working at a facility owned by Dow Corning Alabama. Blue's employer at the time of the accident was Alabama Electric Company, Inc., of Dothan ("Alabama Electric"), which was, pursuant to a contract with Dow Corning Alabama, installing a vacuum system at Dow Corning Alabama's facility. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that although the Dow parties sought contribution from Alabama Electric and National Trust, thereby raising an issue of whether a settlement with Blue was a good-faith, reasonable settlement, resolution of that issue did not require privileged information. The Court surmised the issue could be resolved by consideration of the nonprivileged materials generated in connection with Blue's personal-injury action. Thus, the Dow parties did not waive those protections by seeking indemnity. Accordingly, the Court granted the Dow parties' petition and directed the trial court to vacate its discovery order requiring disclosure of the requested information, and to enter an appropriate protective order. View "Ex parte Dow Corning Alabama, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Woodruff Brokerage Company, Inc., the remaining defendant in this case, appealed the trial court's denial of its motion to set aside the default judgment entered in favor of plaintiff Patricia Beatty. Beatty sued "Woodruff Brokerage Company d/b/a The River and formerly d/b/a Crest Club Apartments," Ricky Dabbs, "Century 21," and fictitiously named defendants. She lived in Crest Club Apartments, and alleged fatigue, nausea, and weakness were cause from prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide from a leaking natural-gas line beneath her bedroom, and that she had been permanently injured as a result of that exposure. Beatty asserted that Woodruff Brokerage had negligently and/or wantonly failed to maintain the premises at Crest Club Apartments in a safe condition. Woodruff defended on faulty service; the Alabama Supreme Court determined there was no properly named addressee on the certified mail allegedly sent to Woodruff, and thus, Beatty failed to prove that the complaint and summons was delivered to "the named addressee" or to the "addressee's agent." Because Beatty's service by certified mail was ineffective, the trial court did not obtain personal jurisdiction over Woodruff Brokerage, and the default judgment against it was void. Therefore, the trial court erred when it denied Woodruff Brokerage's motion to set aside the default judgment. View "Woodruff Brokerage Company, Inc. v. Beatty" on Justia Law

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This case addressed whether a foster-care provider and a caseworker for the Department of Human Resources ("DHR") were immune from liability. Arnold Curry filed this wrongful-death action against Becky Van Gilder, a licensed foster-care provider, and Kristi Kelley, a caseworker with the Montgomery County, Alabama DHR office, seeking damages for the death of his nine-year-old son A.C., who died of complications related to sickle-cell anemia after DHR removed him from Curry's home. Curry alleged that Van Gilder had acted negligently and wantonly in caring for A.C. and that Kelley had acted negligently and wantonly in managing A.C.'s case. Van Gilder and Kelley separately asked the Montgomery Circuit Court to enter summary judgments in their favor, denying liability and arguing that they were protected by immunity based on their respective roles as a foster parent and a DHR caseworker. The trial court denied their motions. They separately petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for writs of mandamus to direct the trial court to vacate its previous order denying their summary-judgment motions and to enter a new order granting those motions. The Supreme Court consolidated the petitions for the purpose of issuing one opinion, and granted the petitions in part and denied them in part. To the extent Curry's wrongful-death claims against Van Gilder and Kelley were based on allegations of negligence, those claims were barred by the doctrine of parental immunity. Parental immunity, however, did not bar wantonness-based claims, and Kelley did not establish that she was entitled to State-agent immunity as to the wantonness claim against her. Therefore, Curry's wrongful-death claims against Van Gilder and Kelley were allowed to proceed to the extent those claims were based on allegations of wantonness. View "Ex parte Kristi Kelley." on Justia Law

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Road Gear Truck Equipment, LLC ("Road Gear"), a corporation based in Franklin County, petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Marshall Circuit Court to vacate its order denying Road Gear's motion to transfer the underlying action to the Franklin Circuit Court and to enter an order transferring the action. Road Gear manufactures trucking equipment, including "cab guards" designed to prevent passengers in tractor-trailer trucks from being injured by shifting loads. Vernon Dement was operating a tractor trailer pulling a load of logs in Madison County, Alabama. While traveling, Dement's truck over turned on a curve in the road. The cargo crashed into the passenger compartment, crushing Dement to death inside the vehicle, and injuring his wife Deborah Dement, who was a passenger in the truck. Deborah filed suit in Marshall County on behalf of herself and in her capacity as the personal representative and administrator of the estate of her husband against Road Gear and fictitiously named defendants. Dement alleged that her injuries and the death of her husband were caused by Road Gear's negligence and wantonness and that Road Gear was liable under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("the AEMLD"). Dement alleged in her complaint that venue was proper in Marshall County because she resided in Marshall County and Road Gear "does business in Marshall County." The Alabama Supreme Court determined FleetPride was Road Gear's "agent" in Marshall County for purposes of determining venue, and that Road Gear failed to show that it did not regularly do business in Marshall County at the time the suit was filed. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying Road Gear's motion to transfer the action to Franklin County. View "Ex parte Road Gear Truck Equipment, LLC." on Justia Law