Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Plaintiff filed a maritime negligence action against Carnival on her daughter's behalf after her daughter, three years old at the time, either fell over or through a guard rail on one of Carnival's cruise ships. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Carnival negligently created and maintained the guard rail, and failed to warn of the danger posed by the guard rail. The district court granted summary judgment to Carnival.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred when it concluded that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to Carnival's notice of the alleged risk-creating condition because it failed to view the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff and to draw reasonable inferences in her favor. In this case, a witness testified that Carnival warned passengers not to climb up rails, try to sit on them, or try to get selfies or lean over them because accidents can happen and passengers have fallen off. The court also held that the district court erred when it resolved the failure-to-warn claim on a basis that Carnival did not raise, without providing plaintiff notice or an opportunity to respond. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Amy v. Carnival Corp." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured while working as a longshoreman, he filed suit against Seaboard, seeking to hold them liable under the Longshore Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). Plaintiff fell from a walkway on the upper deck of the ship where he was working and sustained serious injuries.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Seaboard on plaintiff's negligence claim, holding that the exposed walkway was an open and obvious hazard that plaintiff could have avoided with the exercise of reasonable care. Therefore, the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's claim. View "Troutman v. Seaboard Atlantic Ltd." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff tripped over the leg of a lounge chair while she was walking through a narrow pathway on a Carnival cruise ship, she filed suit alleging that Carnival negligently failed to maintain a safe walkway and failed to warn her of that dangerous condition.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Carnival, holding that the district court, in concluding that the condition was open and obvious and that Carnival lacked notice, failed to draw all factual inferences in favor of plaintiff. Furthermore, even if the allegedly dangerous condition were open and obvious, that would only defeat the failure to warn claim, and would not bar the claim for negligently failing to maintain a safe walkway. Therefore, the court held that plaintiff presented evidence creating a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Carnival negligently maintained an unsafe walkway. In this case, a reasonable jury could find that at least some chairs were in the lay-flat position and out of order, and thus conclude that Carnival negligently maintained an unsafe walkway that fell below industry standards. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Carroll v. Carnival Corp." on Justia Law

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The Tobacco Companies challenged the amount of damages a jury awarded to plaintiff for his intentional tort claims, and the sufficiency of the evidence to prove his fraudulent concealment and conspiracy to fraudulently conceal claims.The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the Tobacco Companies' motion for a new trial or remittitur, because the compensatory damages award was not excessive under Florida law. The court also held that the district court correctly denied the Tobacco Companies' motion for judgment as a matter of law on the constitutionality of the punitive damages award, because the award was not constitutional excessive. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err by allowing plaintiff's fraud-based claims to go to the jury. View "Kerrivan v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co." on Justia Law