Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Plaintiffs, primarily former U.S. military personnel who were injured by Saddam Hussein's use of mustard gas during the Gulf War, seek to hold Alcolac, Inc. liable for these injuries because, they allege, it illegally provided the government of Iraq with thiodiglycol, which was then used to create mustard gas. Plaintiffs' claims have been foreclosed in previous litigation except for two: (1) a claim under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) and (2) a civil-conspiracy claim under Texas law.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Alcolac, holding that the first claim fails because JASTA does not provide a cause of action for injuries caused by acts of war. Furthermore, the civil-conspiracy claim fails because plaintiffs have not demonstrated that Alcolac or anyone else committed a tort in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy. The court explained that, because plaintiffs' JASTA and civil-conspiracy claims fail, they do not have valid underlying claims. Therefore, their Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act claims also fail. View "Adams v. Alcolac, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured when he tripped on a pipe welded to the deck of a jacked-up offshore drilling rig, he filed a negligence action against Smart Fabricators under the Jones Act. The district court denied plaintiff's motion to remand to state court, granting Smart Fabricator's motion for summary judgment. The district court's ruling was based on its conclusion that plaintiff did not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act.The Fifth Circuit reversed and held that plaintiff qualifies as a seaman under the Jones Act where plaintiff has shown that he had a substantial connection both in nature and duration to the vessels on which he worked. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff satisfied the duration requirement of the Chandris test because he spent over 70 percent of his employment with SmartFab aboard a rig adjacent to an inland pier and around 19 percent of his employment aboard a rig on the Outer Continental Shelf. The court also held that plaintiff's connection to the vessel was substantial in nature and he satisfied the nature requirement of the Chandris test where plaintiff's work on vessels exposed him to the perils of the sea. The court explained that, although plaintiff was a land-based welder who went home every evening, such work aboard vessels did not disqualify him as a Jones Act seaman. The court remanded with instructions to remand the matter to state court. View "Sanchez v. Smart Fabricators of Texas, LLC" on Justia Law

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After James Mays was killed in an explosion on an offshore platform owned by Chevron, Mays' widow and children filed suit against Chevron for state law wrongful death. Mays was directly employed by Furmanite, a Chevron subcontractor, which serviced valves on Chevron's platforms. At issue was whether Mays' accident was covered by the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The jury found that Mays' death was caused by Chevron's Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) activities, and thus the LHWCA applied and Chevron did not enjoy state immunity.The Fifth Circuit affirmed and rejected Chevron's argument that the district court erred by instructing the jury to consider Chevron's OCS operations in answering the substantial nexus question. The court held that the district court did not misapply Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid, 565 U.S. 207 (2012), by instructing the jury to determine whether there was a substantial nexus between Mays' death and Chevron's—as opposed to Furmanite's—OCS operations. The court also rejected Chevron's argument that the evidence linking its OCS operations to Mays' death failed to meet the substantial nexus test as a matter of law. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to reduce the jury's $2 million loss-of-affection award to Mrs. Mays. View "Mays v. Chevron Pipe Line Co." on Justia Law

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State Farm filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to defend or indemnify the insureds in the underlying action. In the underlying action, Jayden Meals' mom filed a personal injury suit against his paternal grandparents, the insureds, after Jayden, who was 10 years old, died in an ATV accident. The district court found that the extrinsic evidence satisfied both the motor-vehicle exclusion and the insured exclusion.The Fifth Circuit certified a question of Texas law to the Texas Supreme Court, which answered that the policy-language exception to the eight-corners rule is not a permissible exception under Texas law. Therefore, the district court erred by applying the policy-language exception in this case. The court held that the eight-corners rule applies here; the underlying third-amended complaint contains allegations within its four corners that potentially constitute a claim within the four corners of the policy; and thus the court reversed the district court's holding that State Farm does not have a duty to defend the insureds. The court stated that State Farm has a duty to defend, so the exception to non-justiciability does not apply. Because the underlying suit remains pending, the court reversed the district court's holding that State Farm has no duty to indemnify. View "State Farm Lloyds v. Richards" on Justia Law

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Claiming that she suffered injuries when her dentist soaked her dentures in CaviCide disinfecting solution, which is manufactured by Metrex, plaintiff filed suit against Metrex, the dentist, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and others.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of judgment on the pleadings to Metrex on plaintiff's claim that Metrex failed to warn and label its product adequately. The court held that plaintiff's failure to warn claim failed as a matter of law because she admitted in her complaint that CaviCide's label warned against the specific use that allegedly caused her injuries. In this case, plaintiff conceded that the use of CaviCide to disinfect dentures or any surface or instrument that contacts mucous membranes is prohibited by the CaviCide label. Furthermore, plaintiff maintained that her injures were caused by the dentist's failure to follow manufacturer's instructions clearly printed on the label for the proper use of the product. View "Hale v. Metrex Research Corp." on Justia Law

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After Gregory Tramaine Miller was crushed to death between the couplers of two rail cars while working as a conductor trainee with the railroad, plaintiffs filed suit under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the railroad, holding that Miller's failure to establish 3-Step Protection before going between rail cars was the sole cause of his death, that his going between moving rail cars was unforeseeable, and that plaintiffs failed to produce evidence of any negligent acts by the railroad attributable to causing Miller's death. View "Gray v. Alabama Great Southern Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and two minors filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), asserting claims of assault and battery, false imprisonment/false arrest, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and negligent hiring, retention, and supervision. Plaintiff's claims arose from a Border Patrol agent's physical and sexual abuse of plaintiff and the minors, including rape, beatings, knife body-carvings, strangulations, and the attempted burial of a living victim.The Fifth Circuit held that the agent's conduct was outside the scope of his employment, and thus plaintiff could not recover damages from the United States under the FTCA. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the FTCA claims based on the agent's conduct. The court also held that the FTCA's discretionary function exception deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction over the negligent supervision claims, and thus vacated in part, remanding to the district court to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. View "M.D.C.G. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that American Marine was liable for most of plaintiff's injuries. Plaintiff was working as a seaman for American Marine when he was injured on board a vessel owned by the employer.The court held that American Marine has failed to demonstrate that the district court’s finding of unseaworthiness was clear error; American Marine failed to establish that plaintiff's accident was mostly his own fault where the district court clearly evaluated the evidence and made no inconsistent findings about causation, finding plaintiff 20 percent at fault; American Marine failed to carry its burden of demonstrating clear error in the district court's choice between competing experts; the district court's finding of diminished earning capacity was not clearly erroneous; in regard to the district court's award of past medical expenses because of American Marine's negligence, plaintiff's failure to prove that he was obliged to reimburse his attorneys for his medical expenses is irrelevant; and the district court did not clearly err in crediting plaintiff's testimony about his current condition. View "Luwisch v. American Marine Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion.The court affirmed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, of plaintiff's action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). Plaintiff, a security guard, was shot in the leg while on duty by a pair of Islamic terrorists.The court held that plaintiff failed to establish that the discretionary function exception does not apply under the FTCA, and thus sovereign immunity has not been waived. Although the district court erred in stating the standard for construing exceptions to the FTCA, the error was harmless because plaintiff's contentions failed either way. The court held that the district court correctly declined jurisdiction under a two-step framework. First, plaintiff failed to identify a nondiscretionary duty violated by an agency or employee of the United States. Furthermore, the government did not violate any directives prohibiting agents from engaging in acts of violence. Second, the court held that the discretion at issue here is precisely the kind that the exception was designed to shield. The court held that plaintiff's remaining arguments were unavailing.The court declined to forge new circuit precedent and adopt the state-created danger doctrine in such uncharted territory; the district court properly dismissed the ATA claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by barring additional discovery. View "Joiner v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Board's order awarding benefits to claimant under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. The court held that claimant was on navigable waters at the time of injury and thus his case was controlled by Dir., OWCP, U.S. Dep't of Labor v. Perini N. River Assocs., 459 U.S. 297, 299 (1983). In this case, because claimant was regularly employed by MMR on navigable waters and, under Perini, meets the "employee" definition, it follows that MMR had at least one employee engaged in maritime employment. View "MMR Constructors, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law