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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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November 30, 2014

RGR, LLC v. Settle - $2.5M Railroad Crash Verdict Affirmed in Part

Railway crashes and accidents result in hundreds of deaths each year, according to the Federal Railway Administration, which reported a total of 1,734 train accidents in 2012. traintracks1.jpg

In comparison to the enormous carnage seen on America's roadways involving solely motor vehicles (causing an estimated 33,000 deaths annually), it might seem a minor problem. However, 700 deaths in a single year - 2012 - is cause for concern. That's only slightly fewer than the number of people killed in recreational boating incidents, so it warrants the attention of motorists.

Just recently in Alabama, a 27-year-old former contestant on the hit show "Survivor" was killed in Birmingham while working as a conductor when an axle on one of the cars derailed and he was thrown into another car in the yard.

Some of the more common causes of train accidents in Alabama include:

  • Failing mechanics

  • Malfunctioning lights or signals

  • Inadequate track maintenance

  • Failure to install/maintain safety gates

  • Unprotected crossings

  • Conductor negligence

  • Defective train or parts

Continue reading "RGR, LLC v. Settle - $2.5M Railroad Crash Verdict Affirmed in Part" »

November 20, 2014

Alabama Distraction Crash Lawsuit Jury Awards $525,000

A truck driver, reportedly distracted by his cell phone, has been held liable for injuries sustained by two men who were struck by the driver while traveling U.S. Highway 31 near Birmingham. iphone.jpg

According to media reports, a man and his nephew sustained severe injuries as a result of the collision, including rib fractures, broken facial bones, a brain bleed and surgery to remove a spleen.

Following a recent five-day trial, a jury in Jefferson County Circuit Court ordered the driver to pay $525,000 collectively to both men for causing the crash.

This figure might seem somewhat high, but the reality is, costs for crash injuries can add up quickly when one factors emergency care, long-term medical bills, therapies, lost wages, property damage and disabling conditions that may prevent a return to work. A recent AAA study found the average cost of an injury crash is $126,000. Meanwhile, the cost of an average traffic fatality is about $6 million.

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November 11, 2014

Nuckols v. Stevens - Proper Venue for Alabama Car Accident Lawsuits

Determination of jurisdiction and venue are important considerations in any personal injury lawsuit. It's not always a straightforward issue, particularly if litigants are from different states or there is a question of federal law.
For the most part, injury lawsuits stemming from car accidents and truck accidents are going to fall under the purview of state courts. However, a court has to have personal and/or subject matter jurisdiction before it can hear a case. That means either the defendant resides in that district or it is the judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions that gave rise to the claim occurred.

If a lawsuit is filed in the wrong venue, the court will likely dismiss the case without prejudice, meaning you can file again. Sometimes, the court will transfer the case to the proper district, but only if it's "in the interest of justice." However, if the case is dismissed, the time spent in the wrong court consumes valuable time that could count against you in terms of the statute of limitations on your case.

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November 2, 2014

Travelers v. Harrington - Auto Insurance Exclusions

Various personal lines of insurance contain provisions that exclude either family or household members from coverage. The common law that gave rise to these exclusions had to do with the "familial immunity doctrine," which essentially prohibited legal actions between parents and children, spouses, etc. carcrash5.jpg

While the courts long held this doctrine promoted family harmony, insurance companies were primarily interested in avoiding collusive acts between family members to collect on insurance - a form of fraud.

Since the mid-20th century, family exclusion laws have been challenged on the grounds that courts should recognize the difference between fraud and legitimate claims, and there may well be instances where family members are legitimately liable for negligence resulting in injury to loved ones.

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October 30, 2014

Bufkin v. Felipe's - Pedestrian Injury, Premises Liability and Open-Obvious Doctrine

A pedestrian injured by a bicyclist while crossing a bustling street as he reached a private construction zone won't be entitled to seek relief from the construction company, even though the company's large trash bin obstructed the view of those traveling the road.
Bufkin v. Felipe's et al., was a complex injury case that involved consideration not just of relevant traffic laws, but also duties owed under premises liability law.

Specifically, the issue was whether the trash bin should be considered an inherent hazard and if the hazard was open and obvious.

Generally, the mere fact that someone was injured doesn't entitle that person to pursue or collect monetary damages.

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