Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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After Clifford Bufford, an employee of Borbet Alabama, Inc., injured his left arm in a workplace accident, he sued seven of his co-employees claiming that his injury was the result of their willful conduct. The co-employees sought summary judgment, arguing that they were immune from suit under Alabama's Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act") because, they said, there was no evidence to support Bufford's claims. Bufford voluntarily dismissed his claims against all the defendants except the petitioner, maintenance supervisor Jeffrey Varoff. The circuit court then denied Varoff's motion for summary judgment. He petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to enter judgment in his favor on the basis of the immunity afforded by the Act. We grant the petition and issue the writ. The Supreme Court concurred there was not evidence in the trial court record that would support a finding that Varoff had engaged in willful conduct as that term was described in § 25-5-11(c). The Court held Varoff was immune from liability under § 25-5- 53. Accordingly, the trial court erred by denying Varoff's motion for summary judgment. His petition was therefore granted, and the trial court directed to vacate its order denying Varoff's motion. View "Ex parte Jeffrey Varoff." on Justia Law

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Appellant a Louisiana attorney representing oil spill claimants in the settlement program, was accused of funneling money to a settlement program staff attorney through improper referral payments. In a disciplinary proceeding, the en banc Eastern District of Louisiana found that Appellant’s actions violated the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct and suspended him from practicing law before the Eastern District of Louisiana for one year. Appellant appealed, arguing that the en banc court misapplied the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct and abused its discretion by imposing an excessive sanction.   The Fifth Circuit found that the en banc court misapplied Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.5(e) and 8.4(a) but not Rule 8.4(d). Additionally, the en banc court did not abuse its discretion by imposing a one-year suspension on Appellant for his violation of 8.4(d). Accordingly, the court reversed the en banc court’s order suspending Appellant from the practice of law for one year each for violations of Rule 1.5(e) and 8.4(a). The court affirmed the en banc court’s holding that Appellant violated Rule 8.4(d). Finally, the court remanded to the en banc court for further proceedings. On remand, the court is free to impose on Appellant whatever sanction it sees fit for the 8.4(d) violation, including but not limited to its previous one-year suspension. View "In re Jonathan Andry" on Justia Law

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Three independent contractors of Eastman Chemical Company were severely injured, one of them fatally, when a pump exploded during maintenance. Eastman moved to dismiss their state-law personal injury suits, contending that the contractors qualified as Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law – which would mean that workers’ compensation was their exclusive remedy and that the courts lacked jurisdiction to hear their claims.   The district court agreed that Plaintiffs were Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the workers’ compensation law and dismissed their actions. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held their cases in abeyance pending the decision of South Carolina’s Supreme Court in Keene v. CNA Holdings, LLC, 870 S.E.2d 156 (2021).   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling. The court explained that in Keene, when an employer makes a “legitimate business decision” to outsource a portion of its work, the contractors it hires to perform that work are not “statutory employees” for workers’ compensation purposes. 870 S.E.2d at 163. No party here contests that Eastman’s outsourcing of its maintenance and repair work was a “legitimate business decision.” It follows that the plaintiffs, independent contractors performing maintenance at the time of the 2016 pump explosion, were not statutory employees and may bring personal injury actions. View "Sallie Zeigler v. Eastman Chemical Company" on Justia Law

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Dr. Frank Coufal and his solely owned professional corporation, La Jolla Neurological Associates (LJNA), hired an unaffiliated, third-party billing service to collect payments from patients and their insurers. Raquel Olson, the widow of a former patient, sued the doctor and his corporation (but not the third-party billing service) for unlawful debt collection under the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. According to the complaint, Dr. Coufal and LJNA violated the Rosenthal Act by sending multiple bills and making incessant phone calls seeking payment for neurological services Dr. Coufal had provided to Olson’s husband before he died, even though Olson directed them to stop contacting her and to seek payment through Medicare and the VA Medical Center. Olson’s complaint did not mention any third-party debt billing service or debt collector and did not allege that Dr. Coufal or LJNA were vicariously liable for the actions of any such third party. The trial court granted a defense motion for summary judgment on the ground that the doctor and his medical corporation were not “debt collectors” within the meaning of the Rosenthal Act. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Olson v. La Jolla Neurological Associates" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was severely injured when he fell from a significant height while working as a carpenter at a construction site. Plaintiff alleged that he fell from defective scaffolding, and he sued the general contractor and the scaffolding subcontractor for negligence.The trial court granted summary judgment for the general contractor, finding that Plaintiff’s claims against it were barred by exceptions to the peculiar risk doctrine articulated by the California Supreme Court in Privette v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal.4th 689 ("Privette") and subsequent case law.The Second Appellate District reversed, finding that, while Privette and subsequent cases held that a general contractor cannot be vicariously liable for the negligence of its subcontractors, Plaintiff’s claim against the general contractor alleged direct, not vicarious, liability. Further, the court determined that there were triable issues of material fact as to whether the general contractor fully delegated to the scaffolding subcontractor the duty to maintain the scaffolding in a safe condition. View "Brown v. Beach House Design & Development" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs allege that Boeing and Southwest Airlines defrauded them by, among other things, concealing a serious safety defect in the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The district court certified four classes encompassing those who purchased or reimbursed approximately 200 million airline tickets for flights that were flown or could have been flown on a MAX 8.In reviewing Defendants' interlocutory appeal, the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court. The court found that Plaintiffs lacked Article III standing because they failed to allege any concrete injury. View "Earl v. Boeing" on Justia Law

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Progressive Direct Insurance Company ("Progressive") appealed a circuit court order granting a motion for a partial summary judgment filed by Madison Keen and joined by Robert Creller and Alfa Mutual Insurance Company ("Alfa"); the trial court certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. In September 2019, Keen was involved in a motor-vehicle accident. She sought compensation from Creller, who was the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident. The vehicle Creller was driving was owned by his parents and was insured by Alfa. The evidence suggested that Creller and his spouse were living with Creller's parents at the time of the accident. Alfa paid Keen the limits of the insurance policy, and Keen executed a settlement agreement and a release in favor of Creller and Alfa. In June 2021, Keen filed the lawsuit at issue here seeking underinsured-motorist benefits from two different policies, namely, a policy issued by Progressive covering the vehicle Keen was driving at the time of the accident and a policy issued by State Farm Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") covering a second vehicle in Keen's household. Because Keen was driving the vehicle insured by Progressive at the time of the accident, her Progressive underinsured-motorist coverage was the primary insurance and the State Farm underinsured-motorist coverage was the secondary insurance. During the litigation, Creller was deposed and revealed the existence of an additional insurance policy covering his spouse's vehicle, which had been issued by Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") and which identified Creller as a named insured. The discovery of the Allstate policy raised the possibility that Creller might have had additional liability insurance coverage that could have compensated Keen for her injuries. Based on the alleged existence of additional insurance benefits, she asserted that there had been a mutual mistake among the parties to the settlement agreement and the release. Keen eventually moved for partial summary judgment, arguing the Allstate policy did not provide coverage. For its part, Progressive opposed Keen's motion, because the availability of benefits under the Allstate policy might affect Progressive's interests with respect to Keen's underinsured- motorist claim. The trial court granted Keen's motion and certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54(b). Progressive appealed. Because it appeared there was a question of fact based on the evidence before the trial court existed when it entered the partial summary judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed that judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Progressive Direct Ins. Co. v. Keen, et al." on Justia Law

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After being arrested twice in a two-day span, once in Lauderdale County (Mississippi) and once in Jones County, for being suspected of driving under the influence and public intoxication, Shelley Rose allegedly drove a rental van the wrong way down Interstate 59 in Pearl River County. A motor vehicle collision ensued, killing Jada Bright. Plaintiff Estate of Jada Bright (Bright) filed a wrongful death suit at the Pearl River County Circuit Court against Defendants Estate of Shelley Rose; EAN Holdings, LLC; Enterprise Leasing Company-South Central, LLC; Elco Administrative Services Company; Enterprise Holdings, Inc.; National Car Rental System, Inc.; Lauderdale County; Jones County; City of Ellisville; Beech’s Towing & Recovery LLC; ABC 1-5; and John Does 1-5, and asserted that venue was proper per Mississippi Code Section 11-11-3 (Rev. 2019) because the claim arose out of a motor vehicle accident which occurred in Pearl River County. Defendants Jones County, Lauderdale County, and the City of Ellisville, filed motions to change venue, alleging that they had not been sued in the proper venue, based on the specific venue statute, Mississippi Code Section 11-46-13(2) (Rev. 2019), of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The trial court ultimately denied the motions, and the Counties and City petitioned for an interlocutory appeal. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s judgment denying the change of venue motions, and remanded the case with instructions to transfer venue either to Jones County or Lauderdale County. View "Jones County, et al. v. Estate of Jada Bright, et al." on Justia Law

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Pakistan International Airlines (“PIA”) failed to transport the body of N.B. to Pakistan for burial due to a miscommunication by employees of Swissport USA, PIA’s cargo loading agent. N.B.’s family members sued PIA and Swissport in New York state court under state law; PIA removed the action to the district court. Following cross-motions for summary judgment and an evidentiary hearing, the district court held that Plaintiffs’ claims are preempted by the Montreal Convention and dismissed the suit. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the Montreal Convention, which preempts state-law claims arising from delayed cargo, does not apply because human remains are not “cargo” for purposes of the Montreal Convention and because their particular claims are not for “delay.”   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained that human remains are cargo for purposes of the Montreal Convention; and on the facts found by the district court, the claims arise from delay. The claims are therefore preempted by the Montreal Convention. The court further wrote that it was Plaintiffs who cut off PIA’s ability to perform under the terms of the waybill. That decision was understandable given the need to bury N.B. quickly, and it cannot be doubted that Plaintiffs found themselves in a hard situation. But their only recourse against PIA and Swissport was a claim under the Montreal Convention, a claim which they have consistently declined to assert. View "Badar v. Swissport USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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T&J White, LLC, d/b/a Brown Heating & Cooling ("Brown Heating & Cooling"), and its employee, Bobby Morse ("the defendants"), appealed a circuit court’s denial of their motions seeking a judgment as a matter of law ("JML") and a new trial following the entry of judgment on a jury verdict against the defendants and in favor of the plaintiff, Timothy Williams. Morse, while engaged as an employee of Brown Heating & Cooling, rear-ended Williams in a motor-vehicle collision. Thereafter, Williams filed a complaint asserting, among other things, negligence and wantonness claims against the defendants. The case proceeded to trial. After the trial court instructed the jury but before the jury retired, counsel for the parties discussed the verdict form and the jury instructions that had been given. Ultimately, the defendants requested, and received, an additional blank line on the verdict form to allow the jury to award compensatory/nominal damages with respect to the wantonness claim; this additional line was placed just before the line for an award of punitive damages. The court then read the final verdict form to the jurors, and no objections were made. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Williams, awarding the following: $500,000 in compensatory damages for negligence, $250,000 in compensatory damages for wantonness, and $750,000 in punitive damages for wantonness. After the jury was polled, defense counsel orally renewed its motion for a JML based on, among other grounds, the alleged insufficiency of the evidence of wantonness and alleged inconsistency of the verdict. The court denied the motion, concluded the trial proceedings, and entered a final judgment on the verdict. The defendants, appealing the denial of a JML on the wantonness claim and that the trial court exceeded its discretion by denying their motion for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Brown Heating & Cooling v. Williams" on Justia Law