Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Petitioners brought suit against Pro Electric Contractors for negligence in connection with Pro Electric’s work as a contractor on a government construction project. Pro Electric argued that the damage at issue occurred because of construction design decisions made by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) and that Pro Electric was simply implementing DOT’s decisions. The district court granted summary judgment for Pro Electric. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the undisputed facts do not support a reasonable inference that Pro Electric failed to comply with its duties in Wis. Stat. 182.0175(2)(am). View "Melchert v. Pro Electric Contractors" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sustained personal injury and property damage in a car accident with Defendant, a State employee. Plaintiff delivered notice of claim to the attorney general by personal service and then instituted a negligence action against Defendant. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Sorenson did not strictly comply with Wis. Stat. 893.82, which requires service of notice of claim on the attorney general by certified mail. The circuit court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss, concluding that service was proper. The court of appeals reversed, holding that delivering notice by personal service does not comply with the plain language of section 893.82(5). View "Sorenson v. Batchelder" on Justia Law

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Patti Roberts was injured at a charity event sponsored by Green Valley Enterprises when she was waiting in line to ride in a hot air balloon and was struck by the balloon’s basket. Sundog Ballooning, LLC was the owner and operator of the hot air balloon providing tethered rides at the event. Roberts filed suit against Sundog, alleging negligence. Sundog moved for summary judgment, arguing that Wisconsin’s recreational immunity statute barred Roberts’s claims and that her claims were barred by a waiver of liability form that she signed. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Sundog, concluding that Sundog was entitled to recreational immunity and that the waiver of liability form Roberts signed was valid as a matter of law. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Sundog was not entitled to immunity under Wis. Stat. 895.52 because it was not an “owner” under the statute; and (2) the waiver of liability form violated public policy and was unenforceable as a matter of law. View "Roberts v. T.H.E. Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The underlying coverage dispute arose from the supplying of a defective ingredient for incorporation into Wisconsin Pharmacal Company (Pharmacal) probiotic supplement tablets. Pharmacal brought this action against Jeneil Biotech, Inc. and Nebraska Cultures of California, Inc. (the Insureds) and the Netherlands Insurance Company and Evanston Insurance Company (the Insurers), alleging numerous tort and contract claims. The Insurers moved for summary judgment, arguing that their respective insurance policies did not cover any damages that arose out of the causes of action against the Insureds. The circuit court granted the Insurers’ motions for summary judgment, determining that the facts of this case did not trigger the Insurers’ duties to defend. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the policies provided coverage. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was no “property damage” caused by an “occurrence” in this case, and even if there were, certain exclusions in both policies applied to negate coverage. View "Wis. Pharmacal Co., LLC v. Neb. Cultures of Cal., Inc." on Justia Law

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The question presented in this case was when, if ever, does a public officer’s obligation to operate an emergency vehicle with “due regard under the circumstances” under Wis. Stat. 346.03(5) create an exception to the governmental immunity provided by Wis. Stat. 893.80. This appeal stemmed from a collision at an intersection in the City of Racine between the plaintiff’s car and a Racine police car driven by Defendant, a police officer, who was responding to an emergency dispatch calling him to the scene of an accident. The jury rendered a verdict finding that the police officer’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The circuit court granted the officer’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and dismissed the action against the officer. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded with instructions to reinstate the jury verdict, holding (1) the immunity statute does not apply in this case to the police officer’s violation of the duty to operate the vehicle “with due regard under the circumstances”; and (2) there was credible evidence to support the jury verdict of causal negligence on the part of the police officer. View "Legue v. City of Racine" on Justia Law

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The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) generally preempts state law claims relating to train speed. Federal preemption, however, does not foreclose a lawsuit against a railroad for breaching the duty to slow or stop when confronted with a “specific, individual hazard.” This case arose from a collision between a train and a minivan during a Memorial Day parade in the Village of Elm Grove. The injured parties and their insurance companies (collectively, Plaintiffs) sued the Soo Line Railroad Company, a rail police officer, and unknown insurance companies for negligence, arguing that Soo Line should have issued an order for trains to go more slowly through the Elm Grove crossings because the potential increase in traffic was a “specific, individual hazard.” The defendants asserted that the FRSA preempted Plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court held (1) the Memorial Day parade was not a “specific, individual hazard” because the parade created only a generally dangerous traffic condition; but (2) the vehicle on the tracks in front of the approaching train was a specific, individual hazard, and therefore, the circuit court properly denied the defendants’ summary judgment motion as it related to claims regarding the train’s reaction to the vehicle on the tracks. View "Partenfelder v. Rohde" on Justia Law

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Billy Joe Force, the deceased, died in a collision with another vehicle driven by Jeffrey Brown. The deceased’s estranged spouse, Linda Force, and the deceased's three nonmarital minor children (the children), sought compensation from Brown and two insurance companies, claiming that Brown’s negligence caused the deceased’s death. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendants, concluding that Linda Force had no compensable damages under the wrongful death statutes and that the children did not have a cause of action for wrongful death. The children appealed. The defendants argued on appeal that because Linda Force was still living, she was a “surviving spouse” under the wrongful death statutes, that her recovery for the wrongful death of the deceased was zero, and that, consequently, the children did not have any set-aside from Linda Force’s recovery. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court against the children and in favor of the defendants, holding that the children had a cause of action against the defendants for wrongful death as if Linda Force were not alive at the death of the deceased. View "Force v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was injured when he slipped or tripped on a curb outside a Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC convenience store. Plaintiff sued, alleging that Speedway violated its common law duty of care and the safe-place statute. During trial, based on Speedway’s decision not to call any former employees who had been on duty at the time of the accident as witnesses, Plaintiff requested and the trial court gave an absent witness instruction. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff, and the circuit court affirmed the jury’s verdict. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the circuit court erroneously gave the absent witness instruction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court erred in giving the absent witness instruction, and the instruction was prejudicial. Remanded for a new trial. View "Kochanski v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC" on Justia Law

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Vicki Blasing was the named insured in an automobile liability insurance policy issued by American Family Insurance Company. Blasing was injured when lumber fell on her foot that was being loaded into her pickup truck by an employee of Mernard, Inc. Blasing filed a personal injury lawsuit against Menard and Menard’s insurer. Menard, in turn, claimed its employee was an insured under the American Family policy as a permissive user of Blasing’s pickup truck. At issue in this case was whether American Family had a duty to defend and indemnify Menard when Menard’s employee was a permissive user of the injured insured’s vehicle. The court of appeals concluded that permissive user coverage was required in this case under the omnibus statute. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the American Family policy explicitly provided coverage in the present case. View "Blasing v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant hired an independent contractor to spray herbicide on his property. The spraying caused extensive, permanent damage to seventy-nine trees on the property of his neighbors, Plaintiffs. At issue in this case was whether Defendant could be liable for the negligence of the independent contractor he hired to spray herbicides under the “inherently dangerous” exception to the independent contractor rule. The Supreme Court held here that Defendant could be liable for the acts of the independent contractor on the grounds that the spraying was an inherently dangerous activity because it posed a risk of naturally expected harm, and it was possible to reduce the risk. Remanded for determinations to be made as to whether Defendant exercised ordinary care to prevent damage to Plaintiffs’ property. View "Brandenburg v. Luethi" on Justia Law