Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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While working his construction job, Plaintiff was severely injured when a crane cable snapped and dropped its payload onto him. Plaintiff sued Viant Crane Service, LLC and Viant Crane, LLC (together “Viant”), arguing that their crane was defective. The district court granted summary judgment to Viant.   On appeal, Plaintiff argues that an A2B doesn’t simply fall off a crane without some sort of defect. Viant, on the other hand, argues that there are alternative explanations for the A2B falling off—chiefly, employees mishandling the crane.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The court explained that because Plaintiff doesn’t have any direct evidence that the crane was defective, he relies on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, “the thing speaks for itself.” The court wrote that applying that rule, the district court held that res ipsa loquitur doesn’t apply to Plaintiff’s claim because the crane was outside of Viant’s control for several days, creating a possibility of mishandling by employees. Plaintiff argues that the district court’s evidentiary burden was too strict and that the court should follow Daleiden v. Carborundum Co., 438 F.2d 1017 (8th Cir. 1971). The court wrote that, in contrast to Daleiden, Plaintiff’s evidence fails to reasonably eliminate other plausible causes of the A2B malfunctioning, such as mismanagement by those handling the tank. View "Shane Boda v. Viant Crane Service, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff shattered her heel bone participating in the Rugged Maniac Twin Cities 5k obstacle race at the Wild Mountain Recreation Area (“Wild Mountain”). Plaintiff sued Rugged Races LLC (“Rugged Races”), the race promoter and the owner of Wild Mountain, alleging that Defendants were “grossly negligent” in failing to perform their duties to protect race participants from unreasonable risks of harm.   Plaintiff appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of both Defendants. On appeal, Plaintiff argues (i) the exculpatory clause is unenforceable; (ii) if enforceable, it does not waive claims based on Defendants’ alleged greater-than-ordinary negligence; and (iii) the summary judgment record includes evidence from which a reasonable jury could find greater-than-ordinary negligence.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that under Minnesota law, as in most States, “ordinary negligence” is the “failure to exercise such care as persons of ordinary prudence usually exercise under such circumstances.” The court wrote that it agrees with the district court that “[t]he fact that thousands of participants -- many of whom undoubtedly outweighed Plaintiff-- jumped into the landing pit without incident is compelling evidence that the water level was not unreasonably low.” Further, the court agreed with the district court that Plaintiff offered “little more than speculation” supporting her contentions that the rock was present before the pit was filled and would have been discovered had the construction crew not acted with greater-than-ordinary negligence. As such, Plaintiff’s negligence claims were waived by the valid and enforceable exculpatory clause in the Race Participant Agreement. View "Jeanne Anderson v. Rugged Races, LLC" on Justia Law

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Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP (Wagstaff) filed a declaratory-judgment action against the Defendant-Attorney, seeking a declaration that Wagstaff owed nothing to Defendant for any work on a wrongful death lawsuit or, in the alternative, a determination of the amount it owed to Defendant.   Defendant filed counterclaims against Wagstaff, including a counterclaim under the theory of quantum meruit. The district court entered judgment in Wagstaff’s favor. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in (1) denying his motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction (2) denying his motion for leave to dismiss counterclaims without prejudice and motions for leave to file his second amended answer (3) denying his motion to dismiss the declaratory-judgment action without prejudice under the abstention doctrine and motion to reconsider the denial of that dismissal motion and (4) denying, in part, his motion to alter or amend the judgment or, in the alternative, relief from judgment.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling in Plaintiff’s favor. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to alter or amend the judgment or, in the alternative, relief from judgment. The court held that the district court reasonably interpreted Defendant’s response to Wagstaff’s third summary judgment motion as an abandonment of his quantum meruit claim. In addition, Defendant had not sustained his burden of proving that Wagstaff has engaged in misconduct that prevented him from fully and fairly presenting his case. View "Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP v. Neal Lewis" on Justia Law

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After Plaintiff was injured by a machine that Skylift, Inc., manufactured and sold, he sued Skylift claiming that the machine was defective and unreasonably dangerous and that Skylift negligently designed it. The district court rejected these claims and granted summary judgment to Skylift.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling granting summary judgment to Skylift. The court held that the product was not unreasonably dangerous, i.e., "dangerous to an extent beyond that which" was actually contemplated by the machine's users. The court explained that Plaintiff does little to confront this glaring deficiency in his claim, focusing instead on the feasibility of adding certain features to the machine that he says would have prevented the accident.   Further, the court explained that Arkansas recognizes that a plaintiff may assert both strict liability and negligence claims in a product-liability action. Here, Plaintiff does not convincingly argue that the machine fell short of contemporary industry standards; in fact, Plaintiff’s expert may well have admitted they satisfied those standards. In sum, the court found nothing that calls into question the lower court’s determinations that the machine was not unreasonably dangerous under Arkansas law or that Skylift did not negligently design it. View "Jonathan Edwards v. Skylift, Inc." on Justia Law

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Monsanto Company and BASF Corporation began developing dicamba-tolerant seed and sued each other over intellectual property. When the USDA deregulated Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant soybean seed that year, Monsanto began to sell it. BASF’s lower-volatility dicamba herbicide was approved in 2017. Bader Farms, Inc. sued Monsanto and BASF for negligent design and failure to warn, alleging its peach orchards were damaged by dicamba drift. The jury awarded compensatory damages and punitive damages based on Monsanto’s acts.   The district court denied Defendants’ motions for a new trial and judgment as a matter of law but reduced punitive damages to $60 million. The district court’s judgment also held Monsanto and BASF jointly and severally liable for the punitive damages.   Defendants appealed, arguing that Bader failed to prove causation, the measure of actual damages is the value of the land rather than lost profits, Bader’s lost profits estimate was speculative, and the punitive damages award was unwarranted under Missouri law and excessive under the United States Constitution.   The Eighth Circuit held that Bader established causation by showing Defendants' conduct was both the cause in fact and the proximate cause of Bader's injury. Further, the district court properly refused to find intervening cause as a matter of law or to give an affirmative converse on the issue. However, the evidence established different degrees of culpability between BASF and Monsanto, and the district court should have instructed the jury to separately assess punitive damages against each of them; therefore, the court remanded with directions to hold a new trial only on the issue of punitive damages. View "Bader Farms, Inc. v. BASF Corporation" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s approval of a settlement between Defendant Monsanto and Plaintiffs. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding the notice to the class was sufficient or in concluding that payment to class members of 50% of the average weighted retail price of the items they purchased fully compensated the class members.    Plaintiffs filed suit pleading multiple claims arising out of the allegedly deceptive labeling of Roundup products manufactured by Monsanto. The parties agreed to a total Common Fund. They agreed that Monsanto would not object to Plaintiffs’ counsel seeking 25% of that amount as an attorney’s fee. Class members who filed claims were to receive 10% of the average retail price for the product(s) they bought, and any remaining funds after the costs of administration would be distributed cy pres. The parties executed a Second Corrected Class Action Settlement Agreement that made four changes to the initial agreement.   Appellant, a party injured by Roundup, made three objections to the settlement, all of which she renewed on appeal. First, she argued that the district court should have (1) required the parties to take additional steps to identify additional class members and (2) increased the pro-rata portion of the Common Fund up to 100% of the weighted average retail price. The court held the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that notice to the class was sufficient in light of the comprehensive notice plan and the estimated results from the claims administrator.Further, the court wrote that cy pres distribution of residual funds pursuant to the settlement agreement neither constitutes speech by any individual class member nor infringes on their First Amendment rights. View "Lisa Jones v. Anna St. John" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that a Sheriff of Harrison County, Missouri, forced her into a sexual relationship that included giving her drugs, directing her to sell them, and protecting her from prosecution. After Doe ended the relationship, the Sheriff pursued criminal charges against her, resulting in felony convictions. Defendant was Doe’s probation officer. According to Doe, Defendant invited the Sheriff to her probation meetings, where the Sheriff threatened  Doe not to disclose the relationship. Doe asserted a state claim against Defendant for intentional infliction of emotional distress (in addition to claims against the Estate of the Sheriff, who died in 2020). Defendant moved to dismiss based on official immunity and a “statutory” immunity under Revised Statutes of Missouri section 105.711.5. For her defense of statutory immunity, Defendant asserted that subsection 105.711.5 bars individual-capacity claims against state employees, such as herself. The district court held that section 105.711 “applies to final judgments”   The Eighth Circuit affirmed and held that by its plain text, section 105.711 does not create a new immunity. The word “immunity” does not appear in section 105.711. Further, the 2005 amendment also amended section 105.726 to add: “Sections 105.711 to 105.726 do not waive the sovereign immunity of the State of Missouri.” Construing the additions to subsection 105.711.5 and subsection 105.726.1 together, the 2005 amendment preserves immunities already in place for the State and its employees, and it does not create a new, statutory immunity. View "Jane Doe v. Lisa Worrell" on Justia Law

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A carrier for the United States Postal Service was involved in an automobile accident that killed another motorist. He had already completed his delivery route and returned undeliverable mail to the post office. Plaintiff, the trustee for the motorist’s heirs, sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The district court found that the employee was not acting within the scope of employment at the time of the accident. It dismissed the FTCA claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The court explained that the FTCA waives federal sovereign immunity for injuries ‘caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable. While Plaintiff cites cases imposing or contemplating vicarious liability where employees cause accidents while driving personal vehicles, those cases did not find that employees were acting within the scope of employment because they were driving their own vehicles. Rather, they observe that an employer is not relieved of liability because the employee was driving his or her own car.   Because the employee was not within the scope of employment at the time of the accident, the FTCA does not waive federal sovereign immunity. Thus, the district court properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Jason Blais v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff tripped and fell in the parking lot of a Walgreen Co. d/b/a Walgreens store in Republic, Missouri. The district court granted summary judgment for Walgreens.  The court concluded that Plaintiff did not establish the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the “lip” formed at the junction of the parking lot’s pavement and the brick sidewalk was a dangerous condition. Consequently, Plainitff failed to establish an element of premises liability under Missouri law. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court erred by granting summary judgment because the record shows that there was a genuine fact dispute regarding the dangerousness of the sidewalk.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiff is correct that he was not required to produce expert testimony and that circumstantial evidence may be sufficient. But the circumstantial evidence presented fails to provide a sufficient basis for a jury to infer the presence of a dangerous condition created by Walgreens. Thus, the court held that Plaintiff did not present any evidence, direct or circumstantial, permitting the reasonable inference that a dangerous condition caused his accident. The district court, therefore, did not err by granting summary judgment to Walgreens. View "Gerry Hodge v. Walgreen Co." on Justia Law

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Kansas City Officer (“Officer”) shot and killed the victim during a foot chase. Family members of the victim filed suit and the district court concluded that the Officer was entitled to both qualified and official immunity. In addition to contesting the grant of summary judgment on appeal, Plaintiffs argued they should receive a trial on their claims against the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners and the other municipal officials named in their complaint.   In evaluating the family’s excessive-force claim against the Officer, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court explained that the key issue requires answering whether the officer’s actions violated a constitutional right and then whether the right was clearly established. The court reasoned that the Supreme Court has explained that “the focus” of the clearly-established-right inquiry “is on whether the officer had fair notice that [his] conduct was unlawful.” Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S. Ct. 1148 (2018). Here, “judged against the backdrop of the law at the time of the conduct,” a reasonable officer would not have had “fair notice” that shooting the victim under these circumstances violated the Fourth Amendment.     Additionally, to prevail in this case under Kisela, the family would need to establish “the right’s contours were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in the defendant’s shoes would have understood that he was violating it.” Here, the family failed to show that the Officer acted in bad faith or with malice. Finally, there is not enough evidence to find that the municipal defendants liable under a deliberate indifference theory. View "N.S. v. Kansas City Board of Police" on Justia Law