Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
West v. North Branch Fire District #1
Claimant John West appealed a Vermont Department of Labor decision concluding that the 2014 amendment to 21 V.S.A. 644(a)(6) did not apply retroactively. In March 2013, West fell fifteen to twenty feet while working in the course of his employment for North Branch Fire District. He was transported to the hospital and treated for extensive injuries. In September 2014, West relocated to Florida, and at some point thereafter, began working at the Freedom Boat Club. Between 2014 and 2016, several different physicians provided conflicting opinions on the level of West’s permanent impairment. In February 2016, Dr. Joseph Kandel conducted an independent medical examination (IME) at North Branch’s request. At a deposition in September 2018, Dr. Kandel testified that it would be accurate to say that “West suffered an injury to the skull resulting in [a] severe traumatic brain injury causing permanent and severe cognitive, physical, or psychiatric disabilities.” West filed a request for a formal hearing, asserting that he was permanently and totally disabled under section 644(a)(6). Between the date of West’s injury and his request for a formal hearing, the Vermont Legislature amended section 644(a)(6). In January 2019, North Branch filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the pre-amendment version of 644(a)(6), which defined total and permanent disability as “an injury to the skull resulting in incurable imbecility or insanity,” applied to West’s claim because that was the law on the date of his injury in March 2013. Further, North Branch argued that the 2014 amendment did not apply retroactively because despite the Legislature’s stated purpose, the amendment created a substantive change in the law. In any event, because West was employed, North Branch maintained that he was not totally and permanently disabled under either version of 644(a)(6). West argued that, contrary to the Commissioner’s conclusion, the 2014 amendment to 644(a)(6) applied retroactively because it did not create any new substantive rights. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the 2014 amendment applied retroactively and therefore reversed and remanded. View "West v. North Branch Fire District #1" on Justia Law
Crogan v. Pine Bluff Estates et al.
Plaintiff Cameron Crogan was seriously injured when he rode his motorbike into a cable strung across a beach access road at the lakeside residential development where he lived with his family. As a result, his mother filed a negligence action against several entities related to the development, including the homeowners’ association and a separately formed beach association, as well as certain individuals in both their individual and representative capacities. The civil division granted defendants’ motions for summary judgment primarily on the grounds that, given the undisputed facts of this case, Vermont’s Recreational Use Statute protected them from liability, and the individual defendants did not owe plaintiff a duty of care in connection with the accident that led to this lawsuit. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the individual defendants were entitled to summary judgment, but reversed the trial court’s determination that the Recreational Use Statute was applicable in this case. Accordingly, the case was remanded for further proceedings concerning plaintiff’s claims against the non-individual defendants. View "Crogan v. Pine Bluff Estates et al." on Justia Law
Blondin v. Milton Town School District et al.
Defendant Milton Town School District and plaintiff, a high-school football player who sued the District after being assaulted by team members during an off-campus team dinner at the residence of one of the players, both appealed various trial court rulings and the jury’s verdict in favor of plaintiff following a five-day trial. Plaintiff sued the District in 2017 claiming negligent supervision and a violation of the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA) in connection with his assault at the hands of fellow football team members at an on off-campus dinner in the fall of 2012. At that time, Plaintiff was a freshman, and the District was aware that members of the football team had a history of harassment, including sexual assaults and hazing, against underclassmen team members. In October 2012, nine or ten members of the team, including plaintiff, attended a team dinner at one of the player’s parents’ home. At some point that evening, plaintiff was dragged down to the basement and thrown onto a couch, where one player held plaintiff down while another player forcibly inserted a pool cue into plaintiff’s rectum. The school principal spoke to plaintiff and another football player after learning that some incoming freshman did not want to play football because they had heard rumors of team members using broomsticks to initiate new team members. When the principal told plaintiff that she would shut down the football program if the rumors proved to be true, plaintiff denied the rumors because he feared retaliation from other students for causing the football program to be shut down. The principal then directed plaintiff to speak to the incoming freshman and tell him he had lied about the use of broomsticks during the initiation of new team members. When the principal informed the district superintendent about the rumors, the superintendent declined to do anything further. In April 2014, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) opened an investigation into allegations concerning the Milton High School football team. The Chittenden County State’s Attorney later filed criminal charges against five Milton High School football players, including plaintiff’s attackers, all of whom pled guilty to criminal offenses related to harassment, hazing, and assault. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Blondin v. Milton Town School District et al." on Justia Law
Newton v. Preseau
Plaintiff Bradley Newton, who was injured when his brother’s truck broke apart while on a lift in plaintiff’s garage, appealed the civil division’s decision granting summary judgment to defendants associated with the state-designated inspection station where the truck had been inspected several months earlier. In the early autumn of 2014, defendant Ron Preseau performed an annual state inspection of a 1994 GMC pickup truck owned by defendant Douglas Newton, who is plaintiff Bradley Newton’s brother. In late January 2015, the truck broke down while being operated on a public highway. Shortly thereafter, Douglas put the inoperable pickup on a flatbed truck and took it to plaintiff’s detached garage. In 2010, plaintiff had purchased and installed a lift in his garage. After the plow was removed from the front of the pickup, Douglas put the pickup, which had at least 300 pounds of sand in its bed, on the lift. After diagnosing the problem, Douglas asked plaintiff to assess the damage. While plaintiff was under the truck, it collapsed into two pieces, and plaintiff was injured when one of the pieces pinned him to the floor of the garage. In July 2017, plaintiff filed a personal injury action, alleging in relevant part that defendant Preseau and others had acted negligently in connection with the inspection of the truck. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that any legal duty owed by motor vehicle inspectors to third persons did not extend to plaintiff under the circumstances of this case, which did not involve operation of the subject vehicle or any other vehicle at the time of the incident in question. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the civil division’s decision. View "Newton v. Preseau" on Justia Law
Civetti v. Turner
The trial court dismissed plaintiff Paul Civetti's negligence action against the Town of Isle La Motte and the Town Road Commissioner on grounds that: (1) because the Road Commissioner was an “appointed or elected municipal officer,” plaintiff was required by 24 V.S.A. section 901(a) to bring his action against the Town, rather than the Road Commissioner; and (2) the Town was, in turn, immune from suit based on municipal immunity. In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that: the Town has formally adopted road standards for its town roads; the Road Commissioner is responsible for assuring that the Town’s roads meet those standards; Main Street did not comply with those standards, including standards relating to the “width and shoulder”; the Road Commissioner knew or should have known that Main Street did not comply; and plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident because of the non-compliant road. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that if the Road Commissioner was negligent in performing a ministerial function, the Town assumes the Road Commissioner’s place in defending the action and therefore may not assert municipal immunity from the claim pursuant to section 901(a) or § 901a, and that dismissal of this claim on the basis of qualified immunity was premature. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Civetti v. Turner" on Justia Law
Montague v. Hundred Acre Homestead, LLC
Plaintiff Darryl Montague sued Hundred Acre Homestead, a therapeutic residential community, after a resident of Hundred Acre shot him at the shooting range he owned. He invoked two theories of liability: (1) that as the resident’s mental-health provider, Hundred Acre breached a duty to take reasonable steps to protect him from the resident by warning him of the danger she posed; and (2) Hundred Acre breached a duty to him by accepting and retaining the resident for care in violation of applicable Vermont regulations. Montague appealed the superior court’s dismissal of both. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review reduced to whether one who provides residential care for an individual had a tort-law duty to warn a potential victim of violence by that individual when that potential victim is neither individually identified or identifiable, nor a member of a discrete identified or identifiable class of potential victims. The Court concluded both theories of negligence failed because neither established that Hundred Acre had a cognizable legal duty to protect Montague enforceable through a private tort action. View "Montague v. Hundred Acre Homestead, LLC" on Justia Law
Ziniti v. New England Central Railroad, Inc.
Plaintiff Matthew Ziniti sued defendant New England Central Railroad, Inc. after he was seriously injured in a train-car collision. Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s partial summary judgment ruling and the ensuing jury verdict for defendant, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) granting defendant summary judgment precluding him from presenting evidence that defendant’s failure to place a crossbuck on the right side of the road at the site of the railroad crossing, or to take steps to ensure that an “advance warning” sign was present, caused or contributed to the collision; (2) denying a request for the jurors to view the crossing where the accident occurred; (3) denying his motion for a directed verdict on the railroad’s negligence on account of its violation of a safety statute relating to maintenance of the railroad’s right of way; and (4) denying his request for an instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine. After reviewing the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court rejected each of these arguments and, accordingly, affirmed the judgment in favor of defendant. View "Ziniti v. New England Central Railroad, Inc." on Justia Law
Bernasconi v. City of Barre: Hope Cemetery
Plaintiff Jay Bernasconi appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendant City of Barre. Plaintiff fell into a hole and injured his knee while visiting family graves at Hope Cemetery, which the City owned. He contends that the City’s negligent maintenance of the Cemetery caused his injury. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiff could not establish that any breach of the City’s duty of care caused his injuries, and affirmed summary judgment against him. View "Bernasconi v. City of Barre: Hope Cemetery" on Justia Law
Commissioner of Labor v. Eustis Cable Enterprises, LTD
During road-construction operations, a truck owned or operated by Eustis Cable Enterprises, LTD, which was participating in the construction activity, struck and killed a flagger for Green Mountain Flaggers. The truck hit the flagger when the driver began backing it up in the southbound breakdown lane on Route 7 in Middlebury, Vermont. In response to the accident, the Commissioner of Labor investigated and ultimately cited Eustis for two alleged violations of 29 C.F.R. 1926.601: a failure to ensure that the vehicle’s backup alarm was audible above the surrounding noise level; and a failure to assure the safety devices were in a safe condition at the beginning of each shift. The Commissioner assessed $11,340 in fines ($5670 for each violation). Eustis appealed the civil division’s affirmance of the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Act (VOSHA) review board’s determination that Eustis failed to meet VOSHA’s motor-vehicle requirements and the resulting assessment of a fine for the violations. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the evidence and findings did not support the board’s conclusion that Eustis was on notice of the violation and accordingly reverse and strike the citation alleging a violation of 29 C.F.R. 1926.601(b)(14) and associated penalty. View "Commissioner of Labor v. Eustis Cable Enterprises, LTD" on Justia Law
Stopford v. Milton Town School District
Plaintiffs appealed a trial court’s order granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment on their negligence claims. Plaintiffs were Jordan Preavy’s mother, Tracy Stopford, in her individual capacity and as administrator of his estate, and his father, Sean Preavy. They alleged their son tcommitted suicide as a result of being assaulted by some of his teammates on the Milton High School football team, which, according to plaintiffs, the school negligently failed to prevent. On appeal, plaintiffs argued the court did not properly apply the summary judgment standard nor the appropriate duty of care and that it erred when it concluded that plaintiffs failed to prove that the assault was foreseeable and that it was the proximate cause of Jordan’s suicide. Further, plaintiffs argued the court improperly imposed a monetary sanction on their attorney after finding that he engaged in a prohibited ex parte communication with defendants’ expert witness. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stopford v. Milton Town School District" on Justia Law