March 20, 2015

Alabama Supreme Court Weighs Wrongful Death in Lemley v. Wilson

It is well-established under Alabama's workers' compensation law that the exclusive remedy workers have to pursue action against their employer is worker's compensation. That means employees in most cases can't sue their company for on-the-job injuries.
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However, workers can pursue legal action against third parties who may be responsible for injuries arising from employment.

Such was the case in Lemley v. Wilson, wherein a city-employed worker was struck by a vehicle while directing traffic. He later died of his injuries. The worker's father pursued legal action against the driver who struck him.

The case went to trial, and jurors sided with defendant. However, trial court granted plaintiff's motion for a new trial. Defendant appealed, and the issue of the new trial was heard by the Alabama Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded. The high court ruled there was ample evidence to support jury's findings, even if there was also ample evidence to support plaintiff's assertions.

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March 10, 2015

Alabama v. Hendrix - Drunk Driver Who Caused Fatal Crash Will Not Be Charged

In the spring of 2005, a man who was heavily intoxicated barreled down U.S. Highway 278 shortly before Midnight in Double Springs. He slammed into another vehicle head-on, and the other driver was killed. The drunk driver was severely injured, suffering traumatic brain injury.
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A year later, he was indicted by a grand jury on vehicular homicide for causing the death with criminal negligence by committing three traffic violations - driving drunk, speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road. However, before trial, defendant was deemed not competent to stand trial, and the criminal trial judge dismissed the charges with prejudice, meaning they couldn't be refiled. The state didn't appeal this order.

But then six years later, the state moved to indict again on these same charges, in spite of that order, on grounds defendant's condition had improved. Recently, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the charges based on the new indictment, finding prosecutors never sought modification of that "with prejudice" order, and therefore had not covered all their procedural bases.

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March 3, 2015

Fewer Alabama Motorists Wearing Seat Belts

An analysis of recent citations for seat belt violations and related fatalities among Alabama drivers reveals a significant problem, one highlighted by the recent death of a teenage couple killed in a single vehicle crash in Bay Minette in January. Neither were wearing a seat belt.
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Law enforcement officials report more than 240 people killed in Alabama crashes last year weren't wearing seat belts. The year before, nearly 60 percent of those killed in car accidents in the state were not buckled up. That same year, officials tallied 42,000 seat belt violation citations.

Alabama state troopers are imploring drivers and passengers not to take the risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes teen are especially at risk, far less likely to wear seat belts than drivers over 30 and far more likely than their older counterparts to die in a crash.

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February 28, 2015

Herland v. Izatt - Gun Owner Owed Duty to Impaired Guest

The case of Herland v. Izatt began when an intoxicated party guest picked up a loaded gun belonging to the host and accidentally shot herself in the head. firearm.jpg

Although the host/gunowner was not the subject of criminal charges for the horrific accident, the woman's family filed civil negligence action, alleging general negligence, premises liability and negligent entrustment.

While the trial court in the case granted summary judgment to defendant, finding he owed no duty of care to his guest, the Utah Supreme Court reversed. Specifically, the high court ruled that gun owners do have a duty to exercise reasonable care in supplying a firearm to an intoxicated individual.

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February 22, 2015

Rice v. Corasanti - Pre-Death Suffering a Factor in Wrongful Death Claim

When a loved one is killed as a result of someone else's negligence or criminal act, a civil wrongful death case can focus at least partially on whether or how much decedent suffered prior to death.
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This is often an especially painful and difficult element to address because no one wants to think about those last moments in which someone for whom they cared experienced deep distress, severe pain or great fear. Still, it may be necessary to address because courts allow for greater compensation when a person was aware and suffered greatly before death, as opposed to if the person died suddenly or had no awareness.

This has become an issue in a recent hit-and-run DUI wrongful death case in New York, where the family of an 18-year-old pizzeria worker is suing a doctor alleged to be responsible for her death. In Rice v Corasanti, the question of the victim's pre-death pain and suffering has become central, and, unfortunately, hinges on a witness who has been inconsistent with her testimony.

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February 14, 2015

In re Malm v. Villegas - Sufficient Service of Process Key in Accident Case

The best civil in the world will not be able to survive to the trial phase if the court determines there is insufficient service of process.
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The reason is that service of process lays the foundation of personal jurisdiction, which refers to the court's jurisdiction over the parties involved in a civil action. Service of process is required in all lawsuits. Absent this, there can't be a valid lawsuit.

Only following plaintiff's proper service upon a defendant is jurisdiction obtained by the court over the defendant to impose and enforce judgment of liability and damages.

Service of process is the procedure by which a plaintiff in a lawsuit gives fair notice to defendant of a legal action. This enables the other party to respond before the court in the proceedings and to be an active participant.

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February 4, 2015

MADD: Alabama Gets Five Stars for Drunk Driving Prevention

When it comes to drunk driving prevention, Alabama gets a 5-star rating, according to the latest report from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
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This was in conjunction with another recently-released study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which indicates the state had the lowest death rate of alcohol poisoning in the country.

But it isn't time to raise a glass just yet.

Drunk-driving related fatalities are still a major problem in this state, with a June 2014 analysis ranking the state 17th highest in terms of alcohol-attributable deaths, which include drunk driving.

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January 31, 2015

Alabama Mutual Insurance Co. v. City of Fairfield - State High Court Weighs Class-Action UM Claim

An insurance company providing workers' compensation coverage and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to cities (and hence, their workers) across the state pulled what many considered to be an illegal move.
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As was later detailed in the case of Alabama Mutual Insurance Corp. v. City of Vernon, the city alleged in 2005 the insurer excluded city workers from collecting both workers' compensation and UM benefits in the event workers were involved in an on-the-job accident. Workers' compensation would thus be the only damages a worker could collect in the event of a serious crash. (They couldn't sue the employer, due to the exclusive remedy provision, and suing the other driver who lacked insurance would likely be fruitless.)

Vernon argued this move by the insurer was a breach of contract that effectively rendered the city's UM/UIM coverage as "illusory." The city had contracted with the insurer to provide UM/UIM benefits to injured workers. It paid for those benefits. And yet, the city didn't actually receive any coverage because the insurer cut out the only persons who had any realistic chance of collecting those benefits - city workers and volunteers.

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January 22, 2015

Travelers v. Gray - Alabama Supreme Court Reverses Crash Judgment

The Alabama Supreme Court reversed a summary judgment favoring an accident victim and her husband against their insurance company for uninsured motorist benefits on grounds the order improperly relied on a default judgment against the other driver.
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In Travelers v. Gray, the state high court found a default judgment against the driver who caused the crash is not binding against a plaintiff's own insurer where the firm was not listed as a defendant in the original complaint. The court relied on its previous ruling in Bailey v. Progressive Specialty Insurance Co. to reach its conclusion.

The court previously held that in order for both the insured and the uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier to protect their rights in the course of making a claim, the plaintiff can either join his own liability insurer as a defendant in the lawsuit or give notice of the filing and the possibility of a claim at the close of trial. In cases where the insurer is named as a party, it has the right to choose whether to participate. In either case, the insurer will be bound by the court's decision on the issues of liability and damages.

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January 12, 2015

Stuhlmacher v. Home Depot - Ladder Defect Case to be Retried

The injury at the center of the recently-decided Stuhlmacher v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. didn't occur around the holidays. However, it is relevant because it involves an allegedly defective ladder. The fact is, both before and for weeks after the holiday season, people climb ladders to decorate and then "un-decorate" their homes. ladder1.jpg

It's a fact that ladders can tip regardless of their condition if they aren't used properly. However, when a ladder collapses or otherwise fails when being used properly as intended or anticipated, this may be grounds for a product liability lawsuit.

This was the case in Stuhlmacher.

Generally in order to succeed in a product liability lawsuit, one must prove not only he or she suffered injuries, but that those injuries were proximately caused by a product that was either defective or lacked proper instructions or warnings. One must also show the product was being used more or less in the manner intended.

Here, according to court records, the issue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was that of causation, as posited by a plaintiff expert witness, whose testimony was stricken from the record by the trial judge. Without that testimony, causation could not be proven. The federal appellate court reversed, finding the testimony qualified as relevant under Civil Rule 702, so long as it helps the jury in determining any fact at issue in the case. Specifically, expert witnesses are allowed to put forth alternative models to explain their conclusions, the court ruled.

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January 6, 2015

Semian v. Ledgemere Transp., Inc. - Comparative Fault in Cycling Accidents

Bicycling in Montgomery has gained speed in recent years, with the area boasting some 1,380 miles of trails specifically for biking. In addition, numerous events, races and club rides are organized every year, with many participants choosing to make cycling part of their everyday commute, exercise or recreation. Montgomery is an ideal place for this year-round, given our great climate.
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Cyclists must be sure, however, to follow the rules of the road. This is true everywhere, but it's especially true in Alabama, where liability of a motor vehicle driver who collides with a cyclist will be eliminated if the cyclist shares any percentage of fault.

Alabama is one of just five states in the country that follows the "pure contributory negligence" system in civil courts. Per the rulings issued by the Alabama Supreme Court in Ala. Power Co. v. Schotz in 1968 and John Cowly & Bros., Inc. v. Brown in 1990, a plaintiff making a claim based on negligence will lose entitlement to damages if plaintiff is at all negligent.

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December 30, 2014

Grant v. Wiley Sanders Trucking Lines - Deciding Estate Representative for Alabama Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The trauma of losing a loved one as a result of negligence can be compounded when there is a dispute regarding who may be named personal representative of decedent's estate.
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The question is a crucial one because while multiple people may be dependents or have standing to collect on a wrongful death claim, only one person can file claim - and that's the personal representative. This person must be named to this position before litigation can proceed.

Even then, it is not completely out of the ordinary for disputes to occur, as the recent case of Grant v. Wiley Sanders Trucking Lines, Inc., before the Alabama Supreme Court, reveals.

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December 20, 2014

Robert Bosch LLC v. Smith - Ala. Supreme Court Weighs Product Liability Lawsuit

Amid a host of recalls for faulty airbags used by nearly a dozen auto manufacturers, the Alabama Supreme Court recently weighed another product liability case involving allegedly defective airbags.airbag1.jpg

In Robert Bosch LLC v. Smith et al., justices were asked whether a trial court erred in requiring defendant air bag manufacturer to submit a series of internal records deemed trade secrets as part of discovery.

Defendant appealed that decision, arguing it should not be forced to turn over information that could be damaging to the company. Plaintiff argued trial court did not err in its ruling and the need to prevent disclosure does not outweigh the benefit of disclosing what should be considered relevant evidence.

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December 12, 2014

Bilesky v. Shopko - Spoliation of Evidence Met With Sanctions

Evidence is the crux of any legal case. The truth, of course, is of paramount importance, but what is also key is what can be proven. Without the right amount and type of evidence, a case will go no where.
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This is as true for personal injury cases as it is for those involving crimes.

Because certain evidence can be considered critical to a case, and those with vested interest in not having that evidence presented may be in possession of it for a time. The courts have long recognized the importance of sanctions for loss or destruction of evidence - regardless of whether it was intentional. When important evidence is lost, it's called spoliation. By imposing sanctions for spoliation of evidence, the court provides incentive to protect key evidence that may be helpful to the opposing side.

Sanctions can include anything from a special instruction to the jury to a default judgment on the issue of liability or damages. It can result in the party disadvantaged by the loss of evidence winning the case.

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December 2, 2014

Peterson-Tuell v. First Student Transp. - Prior Health History Relevant to Determine Damages

It seemed like a relatively straightforward case: A school bus driver, working for a private contractor, rear-ended a woman in a vehicle, pushing that driver into another vehicle, causing some damage to the vehicle and, allegedly, injury to that driver.
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When the driver who was struck later filed a lawsuit for injuries sustained in the crash, defendant school bus company admitted to liability in Peterson-Tuell v. First Student Transp., LLC. There was really nothing to argue in that regard, as the bus driver was clearly at fault in proceeding when the light turned green without making sure traffic ahead had started to move.

That meant the only thing left to decide was the issue of damages. The injured driver asked for $3 million, saying a traumatic brain injury stemming from the crash rendered her unable to work. The company offered to pay her $95,000, arguing her injuries were psychosomatic. In the end, a jury granted the woman even less, $65,000.

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