Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the trial court dismissing Plaintiff's wrongful-death action against the City of Petersburg alleging that the City failed to notify area residents that the infrastructure was not adequate to provide the required safe flow of water to area fire hydrants, resulting in the death of his son, holding that sovereign immunity barred Plaintiff's complaint. In the complaint, Plaintiff alleged that his son died from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries during a fire at his Petersburg residence before firefighters could establish a sufficient water supply and remove him from the burning residence. The City filed a demurrer and plea in bar, asserting that because Plaintiff's claim arose from the City's governmental functions of operating a fire department and supplying water for fire protection, sovereign immunity barred Plaintiff's suit. The circuit court granted the demurrer and plea in bar and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Plaintiff's complaint alleged negligence arising from the City's immune governmental function of providing and maintaining fire hydrants the trial court properly granted the City's demurrer and plea in bar of sovereign immunity. View "Massenburg v. City of Petersburg" on Justia Law

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In this personal injury action, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of Yashana Spruill and against Angela Tyler only on liability, holding that the trial court erred in admitting certain medical records, but the error was harmless. Spruill was a passenger in Tyler's vehicle when it was involved in an accident with a vehicle driven by Brendon Garcia. Spruill sued Tyler and Garcia seeking damages for personal injuries allegedly resulting from the accident. The jury reached a verdict in favor of Spruill against Tyler only on liability and awarded $0 in damages. Spruill appealed, arguing that her medical records were improperly admitted into evidence because they had not been properly authenticated and were inadmissible hearsay. The Supreme Court held (1) as to the admission of the medical records, neither the requirements of the authentication statute nor Va. R. Evid. 2:308(6) were satisfied; but (2) in the unique context of this case, the admission of the medical records was harmless error. View "Spruill v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiffs' claims against home builder gravestone Homes, Inc. seeking tort and contract remedies after mold developed in a new home, holding that the circuit court erred in dismissing negligent-repair claims and contract claims. George and Crystal Tingler entered into a construction contract with Graystone to construct a new home on property owned by a family-run company, Belle Meade Farm, LLC. After the house was built, rain water leaked into the house, and mold developed. Graystone tried unsuccessfully to remediate the mold. The Tinglers and their children subsequently abandoned the home and sued Graystone seeking contract remedies for roperty damage, personal injuries, and economic losses. The Tinglers and Belle Meade separately sued Graystone seeking contract remedies for economic losses and property damage. The circuit court dismissed all claims in each of the complaints. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the circuit court erred (1) in dismissing the negligent-repair counts in the Tingler family's personal injury complaints and the Tinglers' and Belle Meade's complaint; and (2) in dismissing the contract claims and contractual claims in the Tinglers' and Belle Meade's complaint. View "Tingler v. Graystone Homes, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court entering final judgment against a nursing home arising from actions taken by a nursing assistant at the nursing home, holding that it was impossible for the trial court to reach its conclusion based on the limited evidence presented at a plea-in-bar hearing. The nursing assistant in this case molested and raped a resident at the nursing home. The resident's estate sued the nursing home, and the jury returned a verdict against the nursing home. The nursing home appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in holding prior to trial that the nursing assistant had committed the molestation and rape while acting with the scope of his employment and erred in its evidentiary rulings regarding the admissibility of expert testimony. The Supreme Court remanded the case for retrial, holding that the trial court erred in (1) removing the scope-of-employment issue from the jury based upon its ruling on the nursing home's plea in bar, which it later implemented through its ruling on a motion in limine and through its jury instruction; and (2) excluding the nursing home's expert witness and in admitting challenged testimony of the Estate's expert witness. View "Our Lady of Peace v. Morgan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court upholding a jury verdict finding Defendant liable for defamation of Plaintiff, holding that the trial court erred in its gatekeeping function by failing properly to instruct the jury as to actionable statements of fact versus statements that were merely opinion and thus nonactionable. Plaintiff filed a defamation action based on an email Defendant had sent, quoting eleven statements in her complaint as allegedly defamatory. Defendant demurred to the complaint, arguing that the statements could not sustain a defamation claim. The trial court sustained the demurrer in part, finding that the first eight statements were actionable statements of fact but the last three statements were statements of opinion incapable of supporting a defamation claim. During trial, Plaintiff introduced Defendant's email into evidence in support of her defamation claim. The jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to consider the last three statements along with the first eight statements in deciding the defamation claim. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the trial court erred in submitting to the jury the last three statements in Defendant's trial, which were mere statements of opinion. View "Handberg v. Goldberg" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court holding that a settlement agreement between Plaintiff and her underinsured motorist carrier did not entitle the underinsured defendant (Defendant) to a statutory reduction of the jury verdict rendered against her pursuant to the offset provision of Va. Code 8.01-35.1, holding that the tortfeasor remains primarily responsible for fully compensating the plaintiff for the injury the tortfeasor has caused. Plaintiff sustained injuries when her vehicle was struck by Defendant's vehicle. Plaintiff sued Defendant, asking for compensatory and punitive damages. Prior to trial, Plaintiff settled her underinsured motorist (UIM) claims against her insurance provider. The jury returned a verdict awarding Plaintiff damages against Defendant. Defendant moved to reduce the verdict against her because of the amount paid to Plaintiff by Plaintiff's insurer. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in refusing to reduce the judgment Plaintiff obtained against Defendant by the amount of the proceeds Plaintiff received from her UIM policy. View "Llewellyn v. White" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint against a church deacon and his wife, the local church, and the national denomination claiming that the local church and the national denomination (collectively, the church defendants) had known of a prior sexual-abuse allegation against the deacon and had done nothing to warn or protect her, holding that Plaintiff stated legally viable claims of negligence and respondent superior against the church defendants. The church deacon was convicted of sexually abusing minors over the span over several years and received two life sentences. Plaintiff, one of the victims, filed this suit alleging several claims. The circuit court granted the church defendants' demurrers and dismissed Plaintiff's complaint with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the circuit court (1) erred in dismissing Plaintiff's claim asserting negligence based upon a special relationship between her and the church defendants and erred in dismissing Plaintiff's respondent superior claim; (2) properly dismissed Plaintiff's claims for negligent hiring, retention, and supervision, as well as Plaintiff's claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a stand-alone tort; and (3) properly dismissed Plaintiff's claims for punitive damages. View "A.H. v. Church of God in Christ" on Justia Law

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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