Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Virginia Supreme Court
Cashion v. Smith
Dr. Smith, a trauma surgeon, and Dr. Cashion, an anesthesiologist, provided emergency care to a critically injured patient. After the patient died during the surgery, Smith, in the presence of other medical personnel, criticized Cashion and repeatedly stated that Cashion "euthanized" the patient. Cashion filed an action against Smith and Smith's employer (collectively, Defendants) for defamation. The circuit court (1) sustained Defendants' demurrers and pleas in bar as to the non-euthanasia statements, ruling that they were non-actionable expressions of opinion; and (2) granted summary judgment to Defendants on the euthanasia statements, concluding that the qualified privilege applied to Smith's statements. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the circuit court's rulings that Smith's statements enjoyed a qualified privilege; but (2) reversed the circuit court's ruling that Smith's non-euthanasia statements were non-actionable expressions of opinion. Remanded. View "Cashion v. Smith" on Justia Law
Ayers v. Shaffer
Plaintiffs are the estranged great grandchildren of Elsie and legatees to one half of her residuary estate under a will dated 2004 and admitted to probate following Elsie's death in 2010. The defendants are Audrey, Elsie's sister and legatee to the remaining half of her residuary estate, and Elsie’s former neighbors, Toni, Bruce, and Mike. Elsie's will nominated Toni as executrix; Toni and Audrey took possession of significant assets from Elsie during Elsie’s life. Toni and Bruce began providing assistance to Elsie and her husband in 2004 under a contract providing that Toni and Bruce would be paid $500 per week and would receive $8000 for assistance given in the past. The agreement provided that Toni and Bruce would be paid from her estate, rather than during her lifetime. The trial court found that that Toni, while acting as an agent under the power of attorney, did not arrange for Elsie’s assets to pass at death to the defendant, that the assets in question were retitled by Elsie personally. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that Toni was in a confidential relationship with Elsie and the burden was on the defendants to rebut the presumption that the transactions were the result of undue influence. View "Ayers v. Shaffer" on Justia Law
Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co.
For fifteen years, litigation between Hugh Caperton and his companies and Donald Blankenship and his companies involved trips to many courts, including suits in circuit courts in Virginia and West Virginia, proceedings in the U.S. district court for the southern district of West Virginia, and appeals to the Supreme Courts of Virginia, West Virginia Supreme Court and the U.S. In this case, Caperton and his companies filed suit in Virginia in 2010, bringing many of the same tort claims as they did in 1998 in the circuit court of West Virginia. In the 1998 case, the Supreme Court of West Virginia ultimately determined that a forum selection clause in an agreement between the parties required that suit be brought in Virginia. In this case, the circuit court held that res judicata barred Plaintiffs' claims. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in determining that res judicata operated to bar Plaintiffs' action. Remanded. View "Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co." on Justia Law
Bd. of Supervisors of Fluvanna County v. Davenport & Co. LLC
The Board of Supervisors of Fluvanna County filed a complaint against Davenport & Company asserting that Davenport, which served as the financial advisor to the Board, knowingly made false representations and used its fiduciary position to persuade the Board to hire Davenport as an advisor regarding the financing of the construction of a new high school. Davenport filed a demurrer to the complaint, which the circuit court granted on the basis that the separation of powers doctrine prevented the court from resolving the controversy because the court would have to inquire into the motives of the Board's legislative decision making. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Board effectively waived its common law legislative immunity from civil liability and the burden of litigation, and therefore the circuit court erred in sustaining Davenport's demurrer on these grounds. View "Bd. of Supervisors of Fluvanna County v. Davenport & Co. LLC" on Justia Law
Tharpe v. Saunders
Shearin Construction, Inc., acting through its agent, Jeffrey Tharpe, contracted with the United States government to perform excavation work at Fort Pickett. Shearin subsequently contracted with the Southside Regional Service Authority (Authority) to perform excavation work at another site. A dispute arose between the Authority and Shearin, after which J. Harman Saunders, the owner of Saunders Construction, told the Authority's executive director that "Tharpe told me that Tharpe was going to screw the Authority like he did Fort Pickett." This statement was repeated and republished by and to the Authority and the news media. Tharpe and Shearin (Plaintiffs) filed this defamation suit against Saunders and Saunders Construction (Defendants). Defendants demurred to the complaint on the ground that the statement allegedly made by Saunders did not contain a provably false statement but was an expression of opinion. The circuit court sustained the demurrer. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in ruling the alleged defamatory statement was an expression of opinion and in sustaining the demurrer on that ground. Remanded. View "Tharpe v. Saunders" on Justia Law
Kiser v. A.W. Chesterton Co.
Orvin Kiser died in 2009 from employment-related exposure to asbestos and his resulting mesothelioma, which was he was diagnosed with in late 2008. In 1988, Kiser was diagnosed with nonmalignant pleural thickening and asbestosis. In 2010, Kiser's wife, Phyllis Kiser, filed a wrongful death action against twenty-one defendants. A U.S. district court dismissed the action as barred by the relevant two-year statute of limitations, holding that Virginia law adheres to the indivisible cause of action theory and limitations begins to run on asbestos-related claims on the initial date of diagnosis by a physician of any asbestos-related disease. On appeal, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Court answered that under Va. Code 8.01-249(4), a plaintiff's cause of action for damages due to latent mesothelioma is deemed to accrue not at the time of the mesothelioma diagnosis but, rather, decades earlier, when the plaintiff was diagnosed with an independent, non-malignant asbestos-related disease. View "Kiser v. A.W. Chesterton Co." on Justia Law
Funkhouser v. Ford Motor Co.
Steven Funkhouser's three-year-old twins were playing in their parents' 2001 Ford Windstar when a fire erupted in the passenger compartment of the van. One of the twins died as a result of third-degree burns she received. Funkhouser, as administrator of his daughter's estate, brought a products liability action against For Motor Company and Obaugh Ford (collectively, Ford). Funkhouser sought to introduce evidence of seven other Ford Windstar fires that occurred prior to the Funkhouser fire that were parked and not in operation. The court excluded the evidence and ruled that Funkhouser's expert witnesses could not rely on the excluded evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because none of the seven prior fires were the same or substantially similar to the Funkhouser fire, the evidence was properly excluded for failing the substantial similarity test; and (2) an expert cannot offer opinion testimony based on evidence that fails the substantial similarity test, and accordingly, the trial court did not err in precluding Funkhouser's experts from relying on the evidence of the seven other Windstar fires as a basis for their opinions. View "Funkhouser v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law
Ford Motor Co. v. Boomer
James Lokey passed away due to complications related to mesothelioma. Lokey had served as a state trooper, where his duties included observing vehicle inspections wherein mechanics used compressed air to blow out brake debris to allow for visual inspection of the brakes. Walter Boomer, the administrator of Lokey's estate, filed wrongful death actions against Honeywell International, Inc., the successor-in-interest to Bendix, and Ford Motor Company, alleging that Lokey's mesothelioma was a result of exposure to asbestos in dust from Bendix brakes installed in Ford and other vehicles. After a jury trial, the trial court found in favor of the estate as to negligence and awarded damages in the amount of $282,685. Ford and Honeywell appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding (1) the trial court erred in instructing the jury as to causation; and (2) there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Defendants' failure to warn was the proximate cause of Lokey's mesothelioma. View "Ford Motor Co. v. Boomer" on Justia Law
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Minton
Rubert Minton suffered injuries as a result of developing mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos while working on Exxon Mobile Corporation (Exxon) ships during his employment at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (Shipyard). Minton filed suit against Exxon under the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) for failure to warn Minton of, and protect him from, the dangers associated with asbestos. The jury found in favor of Minton and awarded him compensatory damages, medical expenses, and punitive damages. Exxon appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding (1) the circuit court erred in refusing to admit relevant evidence regarding the Shipyard's knowledge of the danger of asbestos exposure and its ability to remedy the danger; and (2) the award of $12,500,000 in punitive damages was inappropriately granted because punitive damages are a remedy prohibited by the terms of LHWCA. View "Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Minton" on Justia Law
Allied Concrete Co. v. Lester
William Sprouse, an employee of Allied Concrete Company, was driving a loaded concrete truck when he lost control of his vehicle, causing it to tip over and to land on the vehicle occupied by Isaiah Lester and his wife, Jessica. Jessica died from her injuries. Lester, as administrator and beneficiary of Jessica's estate, filed a complaint against Allied Concrete and Sprouse, seeking compensatory damages for the wrongful death of Jessica. Lester also filed a separate complaint against Allied Concrete and Sprouse, seeking compensatory damages for his personal injuries. These actions were consolidated. The jury awarded Lester $6,227,000 on the wrongful death action and $2,350,000 on his personal injury action. Subsequently, the trial court sanctioned Lester and Murray for destroying evidence and providing false information related to Lester's Facebook account. The court also ordered remittitur of $4,127,000 of Lester's wrongful death award. Allied Concrete and Lester appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the trial court (1) did not err in refusing to grant Allied Concrete's motions for a retrial and a mistrial; but (2) erred in granting the remittitur. View "Allied Concrete Co. v. Lester" on Justia Law