Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia

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In this equitable contribution action brought by Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company (collectively, Nationwide) against Erie Insurance Exchange the Supreme Court vacated the final judgment of the circuit court granting Erie's demurrer and dismissing Nationwide's claim for equitable contribution, holding that the circuit court erred as a matter of law. In Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance v. Erie Insurance Exchange, 293 Va. 331 (Nationwide I), the Supreme Court resolved an insurance coverage dispute between Nationwide and Erie. Thereafter, Nationwide brought this action seeking reimbursement for Erie's share of a monetary settlement that Nationwide had paid to a tort claimant while the case was on appeal. The circuit court sustained Erie's demurrer to the claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court should have denied Erie's demurrer to the claim of equitable contribution based upon the coverage allocation that the Court had determined in Nationwide I. The Court remanded the case to the circuit court to enter an order awarding contribution to Nationwide consistent with the Court's allocation of coverage liability in Nationwide I and with the views expressed in this opinion. View "Nationwide Mut. Fire Insurance Co. v. Erie Insurance Exchange" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the determination of the Workers' Compensation Commission that Carnell Carrington was not entitled to temporary benefits for a total disability caused by kidney failure unrelated to his employment, holding that the court of appeals did not err. At the time he began working for his employer in 1992, Carrington had a preexisting kidney job. In 2006, Carrignton received a kidney transplant but returned to work without restrictions. In 2014, Carrington's kidney condition deteriorated severely, rendering him totally disabled from performing any work. The Commission concluded that Carrington was not entitled to continuing temporary total-disability benefits because neither his preexisting kidney disease nor his kidney failure had any connection to his employment. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the two-causes rule articulated in Bergmann v. L & W Drywall, 222 Va. 30 (1981), did not apply to the facts of this case. View "Carrington v. Aquatic Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's judgment denying Defendant's motion to set aside the jury's verdict for Plaintiff on this defamation complaint against Defendant, holding that the trial judge erred by failing to dismiss this case on Defendant's first and second motions to strike and by failing to set aside the jury's erroneous verdict. Defendant, a superintendent for Patrick County Public Schools, removed Plaintiff as principal of an elementary school in Patrick County and provided her with a letter stating that she would be reassigned to a teaching position. After the letter came into the possession of the local news media Plaintiff filed this action alleging that a statement in the letter was defamatory. Defendant twice moved to strike Plaintiff's evidence, arguing that the statement either was opinion, was true, or lacked defamatory sting. The circuit court denied the motions. The jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff. Defendant moved to set aside the verdict on the same grounds as his motions to strike. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial judge consciously disregarded the law and permitted the jury to return a verdict and award damages on a statement that he knew was not actionable as defamation as a matter of law. View "Sroufe v. Waldron" on Justia Law

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In this insurance coverage dispute, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court ruling in favor of Doswell Truck Stop, LLC (DTS) on DTS's declaratory judgment action against James River Insurance Company and entered final judgment declaring that an auto exclusion precluded coverage of James Smith's injuries under the policy at issue, holding that the trial court erred in ruling in favor of DTS. Smith filed a personal injury lawsuit against DTS for injuries he allegedly suffered as a result of a tire explosion that occurred when DTS was repairing a tire on Smith's tractor-trailer. DTS filed an insurance claim with James River, which had issued a commercial general liability policy to DTS. James River denied coverage on the basis that DTS's claim was precluded by the auto exclusion. DTS then filed this action seeking a determination of whether the policy covered Smith's injury. The circuit court ruled in favor of DTS. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erred determining that the auto exclusion was ambiguous with respect to the meaning of "maintenance" of an auto; and (2) the circuit court erred in ruling that an independent basis existed for coverage under the policy. View "James River Insurance Co. v. Doswell Truck Stop, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted certification of a question of law in a proceeding pending before the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut and answered that Virginia law recognizes that the collateral source rule can apply to breach of contract cases. Specifically at issue was whether Virginia law applies the collateral source rule to a breach of contract action where the plaintiff has been reimbursed by an insurer for the full amount it seeks in damages from the defendant. The Supreme Court answered that the same rationales supporting the recognition of the collateral source rule in tort cases also supports the rule's application in certain breach of contract actions. The Court further explained that whether the rule applies to a given case requires a case by case analysis as to whether the parties' expectations, in light of those rationales, support the rule's application. View "Dominion Resources, Inc. v. Alstom Power, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission not to award Appellant benefits after he was injured while renovating a historic school building, holding that Appellant did not meet his burden of proving his statutory-employer claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Appellant sought benefits against a church and its historical society, alleging that these entities were his statutory employers. The Commission denied benefits, holding that none of the defendants were Appellant’s direct employer and that the church and the historical society were not Appellant’s statutory employers. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission applied the correct legal standard and acted within its fact-finding discretion in concluding that Appellant had failed to prove that the church or the historical society were his statutory employers. View "Jeffreys v. Uninsured Employer's Fund" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by a railroad corporation (Defendant) from a judgment in favor of one of its employees (Plaintiff) in an action brought under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51 through 59, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court, holding that the circuit court did not err in admitting certain testimony or in granting Defendant’s motions to strike and to set aside the verdict. After a jury trial, the circuit court entered judgment on the verdict and awarded Plaintiff damages. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was no merit to Defendant’s argument that the circuit court erred in admitting expert testimony; and (2) the evidence was sufficient to create a jury issue with regard to causation, and, armed with a jury verdict in his favor approved by the trial court, Plaintiff was entitled to have the evidence and the inferences reasonably drawn from it viewed in the light most favorable to him. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Sumner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Virginia’s Dead Man’s Statute, Va. Code 8.01-397, permits admission of a decedent’s hearsay statements offered by the defense in a personal injury action brought against the decedent’s estate and that the circuit court did not err in refusing to vacate the jury’s verdict of no damages when the estate conceded liability. Specifically, the Court held (1) the circuit court did not err in admitting hearsay testimony recounting the decedent’s description of the collision under the Dead Man’s Statute; and (2) the circuit court did not err in refusing to set aside the jury’s verdict of no damages as contrary to the law and evidence presented. View "Shumate v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s judgment against Defendants as to Plaintiff’s claims for tortious interference and statutory business conspiracy, holding that the circuit court erred in ruling that Defendants were liable for tortiously interfering with their own contract and in therefore finding that their tortious interference could serve as the predicate unlawful act for statutory business conspiracy. Plaintiff, Read Properties, LLC, filed a complaint against Defendants, Francis Hospitality, Inc. and Delta Educational Systems, Inc., alleging breach of contract, intentional interference with contract, and statutory business conspiracy. The circuit court found in favor of Plaintiff on all claims. The Supreme Court affirmed as to the breach of contract claim and otherwise reversed, holding (1) Defendants could not tortiously interfere with their own contract; and (2) because Plaintiff’s underlying claims of tortious interference with a contract against Defendants failed, its claims of statutory business conspiracy must also fail. View "Francis Hospitality, Inc. v. Read Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the decision of the circuit court granting the demurrers filed by Carilion Clinic and Carilion Healthcare Corporation (collectively, Carilion) and dismissing all of Lindsey Parker’s claims against it, including both vicarious and direct liability claims, holding that the circuit court correctly dismissed the direct liability claims but erred in dismissing the vicarious liability claim on demurrer. Parker sued Carilion and two Carilion employees, alleging that they had disclosed her confidential medical information to others. Parker served process on Carilion but did not serve either employee. The circuit court sustained Carilion’s demurrers. The Supreme Court held (1) Parker’s notice of appeal was timely; (2) the circuit court erred in granting the demurrer to the extent that it dismissed Parker’s respondent superior claim against Carilion; and (3) the circuit court properly found that Carilion was not directly liable under Fairfax Hospital v. Curtis, 254 Va. 437, 442 (1997) or under the doctrine of negligence per se. View "Parker v. Carilion Clinic" on Justia Law