Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Womble v. Moore
Gary and Shiela Womble appealed a circuit court’s dismissal of their tort action against Collie Moore, III based on their failure to prosecute the action. In March 2018, the Wombles were injured as the result of a motor-vehicle accident in which Moore's vehicle rear-ended the Wombles' vehicle. The Wombles subsequently filed a complaint in the trial court asserting claims of negligence, wantonness, and loss of consortium against Moore. A little more than two months after that status conference, the Wombles' attorney filed a motion to withdraw as their counsel, in which he stated that he could "no longer effectively represent" them and that he had "informed the [Wombles] that they will have to timely comply with" the trial court's orders. The trial court granted that motion. The Wombles proceeded pro se, and participated in all scheduled proceedings and status conferences conducted between January and April 2021. The case was called for trial September 13, 2021, but the Wombles did not appeal. Moore’s counsel moved to dismiss based on the Wombles’ failure to prosecute. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. In October 2021, the Wombles moved pursuant to Rule 60(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., asking the trial court to set aside its judgment due to their own “excusable neglect.” The trial court dismissed the complaint. But finding no reversible error in the dismissal, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Womble v. Moore" on Justia Law
Ex parte Alabama Power Company, et al.
Alabama Power Company ("Alabama Power"), B&N Clearing and Environmental, LLC ("B&N"), and Jettison Environmental, LLC ("Jettison") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motions to transfer this action to the Autauga Circuit Court and to enter an order granting the motions. In 2019, Zane Yates Curtis, a North Carolina resident who was employed by B&N, was killed when a portion of his tractor-trailer made contact with an energized overhead power line in Autauga County. At the time, Zane was dumping mulch at a landfill in Prattville that was operated by JB Waste Connection, LLC. Rachel Curtis, as the administrator of Zane's estate, filed a complaint for worker's compensation benefits against B&N in the Montgomery Circuit Court. B&N was a Delaware limited-liability company whose principal address was in Houston, Texas. It did not have a physical office in the State of Alabama, it did not have a principal office in Montgomery County or any other Alabama county, and none of its members were residents of Montgomery County or any other Alabama county. Rachel amended her complaint to include a workers’ compensation claim against B&N, and negligence and wantonness claims against Alabama Power, Jettison, and JB Waste. Alabama Power was an Alabama corporation that had its principal place of business in Birmingham. Jettison was an Alabama limited-liability company that had its principal place of business in Autauga County. JB Waste was an Alabama limited-liability company with an office in Montgomery County and did business in Montgomery County and Autauga County. B&N filed answers to both complaints, specifically including the defense of improper venue. Because venue in Montgomery County was not proper as to B&N when the action was commenced, the Alabama Supreme Court found the trial court exceeded its discretion in denying the motions to transfer the case to Autauga County, where venue would have been proper. The writ petition was granted and the Montgomery Court ordered to transfer the case to Autauga. View "Ex parte Alabama Power Company, et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte City of Warrior and Town of Trafford.
The City of Warrior ("Warrior") and the Town of Trafford ("Trafford") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying their motions for a summary judgment in this tort action filed by plaintiff James Griffin, as the personal representative of the estate of James R. Olvey, and to enter a summary judgment in Warrior's and Trafford's favor on the basis of immunity. A Warrior police officer saw a cehicle operated by Donald Wright run a red light. Though the officer tried to stop Wright's vehicle, Wright sped away and the officer pursued. A Trafford officer joined in pursuit. When Wright entered the interstate to avoid the police chase, the officers stopped their pursuit. Approximately three quarters of a mile from where the officers ceased their pursuit, Wright's vehicle collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Olvey in a southbound lane. Olvey died as a result of the collision. When Wright was apprehended at the collision scene, a syringe was found hanging from his right arm. Subsequent testing revealed that, at the time of the collision, he was under the influence of both marijuana and cocaine. Wright was subsequently criminally indicted in connection with Olvey's death. Griffin, as the personal representative of Olvey's estate, later sued, among others, the two officers and their respective Town employers, alleging among other things, that Olvey died as the result of the allegedly unskillful, negligent, and/or wanton conduct of the officers in pursuing Wright while carrying out duties. As to each municipality, Griffin further alleged, based on a theory of respondeat superior, that they were vicariously liable for the purported wrongful conduct of the officers. After review, the Supreme Court determined Warrior and Trafford demonstrated a clear legal right to summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Accordingly, the trial court was directed to enter a summary judgment in favor of each on Griffin's claims against them. View "Ex parte City of Warrior and Town of Trafford." on Justia Law
Lang v. Cabela’s Wholesale, LLC.
Larry Lang appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Cabela's Wholesale, LLC ("Cabela's"), in his product-liability action against Cabela's based on the alleged failure of a hunting tree stand. On November 29, 2016, Lang was starting to climb down the ladder of a hunting tree stand. A telescoping mechanism in the ladder failed, and Lang fell to the ground and was severely injured. As a result, he had limited ability to walk, incurred significant medical bills, and incurred expenses to modify his home. The Alabama Supreme Court found that under the clear language of 6-5-521(b)-(d), Ala. Code 1975, commonly known as the innocent-seller act, Cabela's was not entitled to a summary judgment on Lang's claims against Cabela's as the seller of the tree stand. Cabela's was entitled to a summary judgment, however, on Lang's claims against Cabela's as the designer and manufacturer. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in part and reversed it in part. View "Lang v. Cabela's Wholesale, LLC." on Justia Law
Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education
The Wilcox County Board of Education ("the Board") and individual Board members were defendants in a lawsuit filed by Jane Doe. Defendants petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to grant their motion for a summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to immunity. On November 11, 2010, Doe, at that time, was a 12th-grade student at Wilcox County Central High School, was sexually assaulted by the principal of the school, James Thomas. According to Doe, Thomas made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to her while she was serving as an aide in the school office and later called her into his private office, closed the door, and began kissing her and touching her. Doe reported the incident, and, as a result, Thomas was arrested the following day by the Wilcox County Sheriff's Department. After his arrest, Thomas was suspended from his duties as school principal and placed on administrative leave. He was ultimately convicted of having sexual contact with a student under the age of 19 years. In 2012, Doe initiated an action against Thomas, the Board, the individual members of the Board, and other individuals identified as former Wilcox County school-system superintendents. Doe asserted negligence and wantonness claims against the Board and the Board members, contending that those defendants had had knowledge of previous instances of similar misconduct by Thomas that they had allegedly failed to properly investigate or report. Doe also asserted claims of negligent or wanton hiring, training, and/or retention of Thomas against the Board and the Board members. The Supreme Court concluded the Board and the Board members, insofar as the Board members were sued in their official capacities, are entitled to immunity from the claims asserted against them but that the Board members were not entitled to State-agent immunity from the claims asserted against them in their individual capacities. View "Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education" on Justia Law
Pearce v. The Estate of Daniel Lea Day, et al.
Icylene Pearce, as the personal representative of the estate of her late husband, Dewitt Ray Pearce, appealed a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of the defendants in her wrongful-death action against the estate of Daniel Lea Day, deceased, and Enterprise Leasing Company-South Central, LLC ("Enterprise"). Dewitt was killed when the vehicle Day was driving collided head-on with Dewitt's vehicle. Pearce's appeal concerned the defense that Day suffered a sudden loss of consciousness before the collision. Pearce objected to the trial court's exclusion of certain evidence that she believed related to that defense, and she claimed that, even without considering that evidence, the trial court should have ordered a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Pearce v. The Estate of Daniel Lea Day, et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte Dahlia McKinney, M.D.
Dahlia McKinney, M.D., a defendant in the wrongful-death/medical negligence action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate an order compelling Dr. McKinney, ostensibly under Alabama's discovery rules, to alter the contents of a registered death certificate she prepared in connection with the death of Paydro White ("Paydro"). On December 31, 2013, Paydro sought medical treatment at the emergency department of Princeton Baptist Medical Center where he was diagnosed with possible pneumonia; he was discharged on that same date. The following afternoon, Paydro returned to the emergency department seeking follow-up care; he was formally admitted for treatment by the emergency physician on duty at that time. Later that evening, after Dr. McKinney began her evening shift, Paydro become unresponsive. Although he was initially successfully resuscitated, Paydro later died in the early morning hours of January 2, 2014. Dr. McKinney, who completed and signed Paydro's death certificate, identified the contributing causes of Paydro's death as "Pulseless electrical activity" due to "Acute Myocardial Infarction." Subsequent postmortem examinations and the autopsy of Paydro's body revealed that "the most likely cause of ... death [was] pulmonary Thromboembolism" -- a final diagnosis with which Dr. McKinney's later deposition testimony indicated she agreed. Dorothy White ("Dorothy"), Paydro's mother, was the personal representative of Paydro's estate. In that capacity, she sued numerous defendants allegedly connected with Paydro's medical treatment, including Dr. McKinney, largely arguing Paydro's death had been caused by the defendants' purported failure to timely diagnose and treat the pulmonary thromboembolism that ultimately caused Paydro's death. Dr. McKinney, who had provided no medical treatment to Paydro other than in connection with emergency resuscitation attempts, informally requested her voluntary dismissal as a defendant. In an email communication to Dr. McKinney's counsel, the estate's counsel indicated that a decision on that request would be aided by Dr. McKinney's voluntary amendment of the original cause of death indicated on Paydro's death certificate to identify his cause of death as a pulmonary thromboembolism. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the death certificate. Dr. McKinney therefore demonstrated a clear legal right to her requested relief. The trial court was ordered to vacate its order compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the cause of death on Paydro's death certificate. View "Ex parte Dahlia McKinney, M.D." on Justia Law
Ex parte Susan Runnels.
Susan Runnels petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the trial court to enter a summary judgment in her favor of a spoliation-of-evidence claim asserted against her by Amir Fooladi, as father and next friend of Malia Fooladi ("Malia"), was barred by the defense of State-agent immunity. This case arose from an incident in which Malia, a four-year-old student in the prekindergarten program at Elsanor Elementary School, was injured while playing on playground equipment located at the school. Runnels was the principal of the school, operated by the Baldwin County Board of Education. In February 2016, an attorney retained by Malia's family sent a letter to the Board advising it of Malia's injuries and requesting that it preserve the glider. Runnels received a copy of a response letter sent by an attorney for the Board agreeing that the glider would be stored for an indefinite period and that the Board would provide advance notification before disposing of the glider. In response to those requests, Runnels asked the head custodian at the school to put the glider into storage on school grounds, and the head custodian moved the glider into the boiler room of the school. At some point between February 2016 and March 2018, a new custodial assistant at the school removed the glider from the boiler room and placed the glider in the trash. Fooladi alleged Runnels had been negligent and wanton: (1) in failing to ensure that the glider was appropriate for use on a school playground; (2) in failing to ensure that the glider would be safe for children to play on; (3) in failing to maintain the glider in proper working order; and (4) in failing to inspect the glider for defects. Fooladi further alleged that, by permitting the disposal of the glider, Runnels had spoliated evidence, and that spoliation severely impacted Fooladi's ability to prove the product-liability claims asserted against the manufacturer of the glider. Because Fooladi presented no arguments or evidence regarding Runnels's entitlement to State-agent immunity with respect to the spoliation-of-evidence claim, the Supreme Court concluded Fooladi failed to carry his burden of either raising a genuine issue of material fact as to Runnels's entitlement to State-agent immunity or showing that one of the exceptions to State-agent immunity applied in this case. Runnels' petition was granted and the trial court directed to enter an order granting her motion for summary judgment. View "Ex parte Susan Runnels." on Justia Law
Burton v. Hawkins, et al.
In May 2018, Howard Cole Burton ("Cole") and Nicholas Hood ("Nicholas") were Auburn University students enrolled in the field-camp course offered by the Department of Geosciences. As part of that geology course, students participated in a series of field exercises, including traveling to geologically significant sites in Alabama. One of the geologically significant sites in Alabama is known as "the Gadsden site," considered a "world-renowned example of a foreland-fold-and-thrust belt." Before the field-exercise portion of the course began, the faculty conducted an informational meeting to brief the students on safety and the specifics of what they could expect to encounter during the field exercises. At that meeting, the students were told to wear bright colors during field exercises for the purpose of staying visible to drivers when near a roadway and to hunters when in a wooded area. No safety cones, signs, or flags were placed along the section of the highway where the group was conducting the field exercise to alert oncoming traffic as to the presence of the group. The students began working on the field exercise approximately 12 to 15 feet from the edge of the highway. Jennifer Fulkerson was driving southbound on Highway 431 in an impaired state and under the influence of several prescription medications. Fulkerson's driver's side tires ran off the highway into the median, causing Fulkerson to react and overcorrect, ultimately striking Cole and Nicholas. Cole suffered severe injuries, and Nicholas died approximately one month after the accident from the injuries he had sustained. Caitlin Hood, as the personal representative of Nicholas's estate, and Cole individually sued Fulkerson, among others, asserting various claims arising out of the accident. At issue in this appeal was whether the University faculty were entitled to State-agent immunity from suit. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the University defendant were indeed entitled to such immunity, and affirmed summary judgment entered by the trial court in defendants' favor. View "Burton v. Hawkins, et al." on Justia Law
Haddan v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.
Yulanda Haddan appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Norfolk Southern Railway Company and Norfolk Southern Corporation (collectively referred to as "Norfolk Southern"). She also sought review of a circuit court order striking certain deposition testimony. Haddan was injured when a pickup truck in which she was riding collided with a Norfolk Southern train at a railroad crossing. In its summary judgment, the circuit court concluded that Haddan could not recover against Norfolk Southern because, it determined, the driver of the truck failed to stop, look, and listen before entering the crossing and that failure was the sole proximate cause of Haddan's injury. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order striking the testimony, but reversed summary judgment and remand the matter to the circuit court for further proceedings. "Haddan presented substantial evidence ... from which a reasonable person could conclude that Norfolk Southern contributed to cause the collision resulting in Haddan's injuries, calling into question whether Cox's contributory negligence rose to the level of a superseding, intervening cause and creating a jury question as to whether Cox's conduct was that of a concurrent tortfeasor. The evidence of Norfolk Southern's failure to install lights and a gate at the crossing further raises doubt as to whether Cox's failure to stop, look, and listen was truly unforeseeable. Haddan has raised enough of a factual issue to preclude the entry of a summary judgment in favor of Norfolk Southern. Ultimately, 'the jury must decide whose actions are the proximate cause of the injury, or whether both [parties'] actions concurred and combined to proximately cause the injury.'" View "Haddan v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law