Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Harris v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
In this "Engle progeny" case, where Florida-resident smokers sought recovery from tobacco companies for cigarette-related injuries, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendants' motion for judgment in accordance with the verdict. Plaintiff brought an individual Phase III suit on behalf of her deceased husband, seeking the benefit of the Phase I jury's findings, arguing that her husband was a member of the original class based on two medical conditions.The court concluded that plaintiff's husband had no medical condition that both was caused by cigarette addiction and manifested on or before the class cut-off date. Therefore, plaintiff's husband was not an Engle class member, and nothing in the Florida Supreme Court's treatment of Angie Della Vecchia, one of the three representative plaintiffs, requires the court to conclude otherwise. Furthermore, because plaintiff's husband was not a class member, Florida courts would not give preclusive effect to the Engle Phase I findings in this case. Neither did the court under the Full Faith and Credit Act. Without the preclusive effect of the Phase I findings, plaintiff failed to prove essential elements of her claims. In this case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the tobacco-company defendants acted tortiously, relying only on the Phase I findings. View "Harris v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co." on Justia Law
LaCourse v. Defense Support Services LLC
Plaintiff filed a wrongful death action alleging that PAE failed to properly service and maintain the F-16 that her husband was flying when it crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. The district court granted summary judgment for PAE.The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the district court that the Death on the High Seas Act does not require a maritime nexus and that the Act applies whenever a death occurs on the high seas. The court held that the Act governs plaintiff's action; the Act provides plaintiff's exclusive remedy; and the Act preempts plaintiff's breach-of-warranty and breach-of-contract claims. The court also held that PAE is entitled to protection pursuant to the government-contractor defense. In this case, plaintiff failed to produce evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact that PAE violated government procedures. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of PAE. View "LaCourse v. Defense Support Services LLC" on Justia Law
Crawford v. ITW Food Equipment Group, LLC
Plaintiff filed suit against FEG for negligent product design after his arm was amputated when it came into contact with the unguarded blade of one of FEG's commercial meat saws, the Hobart Model 6614. Plaintiff was working as the meat-market manager at a supermarket at the time he sustained his injuries. A jury awarded plaintiff and his wife $4,050,000.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's evidentiary determinations, holding that the district court did not abuse its broad discretion in rejecting FEG's Daubert challenge to the testimony of plaintiff's expert regarding inadequate testing. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that allowing the jury to consider the expert's supplemental affidavit was harmless. The court further held that there was sufficient evidence introduced at trial to satisfy Florida's risk utility test and the evidence was sufficient to uphold a verdict of negligent design. Furthermore, the evidence introduced at trial was sufficient to support a finding that FEG's saw failed the consumer expectations test. Although it may have been error for the district court not to issue FEG's requested Florida state-of-the-art instruction, the court held that it was not reversible error. Finally, the district court did not abuse its broad discretion by admitting summaries of OSHA reports of fatalities and catastrophes. View "Crawford v. ITW Food Equipment Group, LLC" on Justia Law
Torres v. First Transit, Inc.
After a bus owned by First Transit struck a vehicle occupied by plaintiffs, they filed a claim for damages against First Transit, alleging that the driver of First Transit's vehicle was negligent and that First Transit was responsible for the their injuries. First Transit admitted liability and the jury awarded damages to both plaintiffs.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's order denying First Transit's motion for a new trial, holding that when a party moving for a new trial based on a juror's nondisclosure during voir dire makes a prima facie showing that the juror may not have been impartial and thus was plausibly challengeable for cause, the district court must hold an evidentiary hearing prior to ruling on the motion for a new trial in order to adequately investigate the alleged juror misconduct. In this case, First Transit presented the district court with "clear, strong, substantial, and incontrovertible evidence that a specific, nonspeculative impropriety" occurred—namely, court documents that, on their face, showed that two jurors gave dishonest and misleading responses on their juror questionnaires and on voir dire. The court concluded that the district court's failure to conduct an evidentiary hearing constituted an abuse of discretion and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the question of juror impartiality. View "Torres v. First Transit, Inc." on Justia Law
Sowers v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
After Charles Sowers died of lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes, plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturer of the cigarettes, R.J. Reynolds, under Florida's wrongful death statute. A jury found the company liable for his death and awarded compensatory damages.The Eleventh Circuit found no merit in R.J. Reynolds' contentions that it was entitled to a new trial based on an evidentiary ruling and based on statements plaintiff's attorney made in closing. The court also held that plaintiff is entitled to a trial on the issue of whether she should receive punitive damages on the negligence and strict liability claims and, if so, how much. Furthermore, the new trial on punitive damages that plaintiff is entitled to will not open up the liability and compensatory damages judgment that she has already obtained in the first trial. In this case, the findings underlying the first jury's comparative fault verdict are concerned solely with determining the amount of compensatory damages that will be awarded, and those findings do not overlap with the punitive damages findings that the remand jury will be called on to make in the course of deciding whether to punish R.J. Reynolds and attempt to deter others from similar conduct.Finally, unless it is successful in getting the court's judgment vacated or reversed, R.J. Reynolds will have to pay plaintiff the compensatory damages award, plus any applicable interest, promptly after the court's mandate issues instead of delaying payment until after the trial on punitive damages and any resulting appeal from the judgment in that trial is completed. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. View "Sowers v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co." on Justia Law
Santiago v. Raytheon Technologies Corp.
In 1996, when she was an infant, Cynthia's family moved to the "Acreage" in Palm Beach County, Florida, about 10 miles from undeveloped land that Pratt used for tests that contaminated the soil. By 1993, most of the soil at the site required removal. Cynthia’s parents allege that in 1993-2000, Pratt excavated contaminated soil that was sold as “fill” for the Acreage and that runoff from the contaminated soil leached into the Acreage’s water supply. In 2009, the Florida Department of Health found a cluster of pediatric brain cancer cases in the Acreage. In 2009, doctors diagnosed Cynthia with ependymoma brain cancer, which metastasized to her spine. Doctors detected thorium-230 in Cynthia’s spine hundreds of times higher than would normally be expected. Cynthia turned 18 in 2014 and filed suit, alleging she was unaware of the contamination until 2014. Cynthia died in 2016. Her Florida law wrongful death by negligence and trespass claims were untimely under Florida's four-year limitations period. With respect to claims under the Price-Anderson Act, 42 U.S.C. 2210(n)(2), her parents cited the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, which tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff knows (or reasonably should have known) her injury was caused by a hazardous substance, or until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit CERCLA’s discovery-tolling provision applies only to actions “brought under State law.” Actions under the Price-Anderson Act borrow from the state where the incident occurred, so Florida’s four-year statute of limitations governs. View "Santiago v. Raytheon Technologies Corp." on Justia Law
Higgs v. Costa Crociere S.P.A. Co.
After plaintiff tripped over a bucket in a dining area of a cruise ship and sustained serious injuries, she filed suit against the cruise company, Costa Crociere, for negligently placing the bucket behind a corner in a highly-trafficked area. The jury returned a verdict in her favor for over $1 million. Both parties subsequently appealed. The Eleventh Circuit found Costa's arguments unpersuasive and affirmed the verdict in plaintiff's favor.However, the court held that the appropriate measure of medical damages in a maritime tort case is that reasonable value determined by the jury upon consideration of any relevant evidence, including the amount billed, the amount paid, and any expert testimony and other relevant evidence the parties may offer. In this case, the district court improperly reduced plaintiff's damages by applying a bright-line rule that would categorically limit medical damages to the amount actually paid by an insurer. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's reduction of the medical damages award and remanded for entry of judgment in the amount the jury found to be reasonable. View "Higgs v. Costa Crociere S.P.A. Co." on Justia Law
Rojas Mamani v. Sanchez De Lozada Sanchez Bustamante
Plaintiffs, relatives of eight Bolivian civilians killed in 2003 during a period of civil crisis in Bolivia, filed suit under the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) against the former President of Bolivia and the former Defense Minister of Bolivia for the extrajudicial killings and wrongful deaths of their family members based on their alleged conduct in perpetuating the crisis. After the jury rendered its verdict, the district court granted defendants' renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law on the TVPA claims.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court conflated the standard for an extrajudicial killing with the theory of liability tying defendants to the decedents' deaths. The court also held that the evidence of deaths caused by a soldier acting under orders to use excessive or indiscriminate force could provide a legally sufficient foundation to support a TVPA claim. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for the district court to determine, in the first instance and under the correct standard, whether plaintiffs put forth sufficient evidence to show that the deaths were extrajudicial killings, and, if so, whether there is sufficient evidence to hold defendants liable for such killings under the command-responsibility doctrine. In regard to the wrongful-death claims, the court held that the district court erroneously admitted the State Department cables. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded for a new trial on the wrongful-death claims. View "Rojas Mamani v. Sanchez De Lozada Sanchez Bustamante" on Justia Law
Tesoriero v. Carnival Corp.
After plaintiff sat on a vanity chair in her Carnival Cruise ship and it collapsed, she filed suit against Carnival, alleging that it had failed to inspect and maintain the cabin furniture (or else warn her of the danger the chair posed).The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Carnival, holding that plaintiff failed to establish that Carnival had actual or constructive notice that the chair was dangerous. Unlike the district court, the court declined to consider whether res ipsa loquitor applies in this case. The court explained that, even if it does, the doctrine cannot cure a defect in notice. Furthermore, because plaintiff has not shown that Carnival committed sanctionable spoliation of evidence, her case is not saved through an adverse inference sanction. View "Tesoriero v. Carnival Corp." on Justia Law
DeRoy v. Carnival Corp.
After injuring her foot on a rug while onboard a Carnival ship, plaintiff filed suit against Carnival in both state and federal court, seeking damages for the injuries she allegedly suffered onboard the ship. In this case, plaintiff entered into a contract with Carnival that contained a forum-selection clause.Under the forum-selection clause's plain language, when jurisdiction for a claim could lie in federal district court, federal court is the only option for a plaintiff. The court held that plaintiff's claim for negligence at sea falls well within the walls of the federal court's admiralty jurisdiction. Even without explicitly invoking admiralty jurisdiction, the court held that plaintiff's complaint is subject to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h)'s provision rendering her claim an admiralty or maritime claim. View "DeRoy v. Carnival Corp." on Justia Law