Earlier last month, an appellate court in Wyoming issued a written opinion applying the “natural accumulation” rule to affirm the dismissal of a plaintiff’s slip-and-fall lawsuit against a middle school. In essence, the rule prevents a landowner from being held liable for injuries occurring from the natural accumulation of snow or ice on their property. The court’s most recent opinion explained that the application of salt or snow-melt, while it alters the original condition of the snow, does not aggravate it.

IceThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a middle-school student. After P.E. class, the plaintiff and some friends encountered a large patch of ice on school grounds. The students took turns running and sliding across the ice, seeing how far they could go and performing various “tricks” as they slid. On the plaintiff’s second turn, he slipped and fell to the ground, breaking a tooth and fracturing his nose.

The plaintiff, through his parents, filed a premises liability lawsuit against the school, arguing that it was negligent in allowing the accumulation of ice or failing to clear the ice. The trial court disagreed, determining that the school could not be held liable for the natural accumulation of ice. The plaintiff appealed.

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One of the key elements in any personal injury lawsuit is causation. In order to prove causation, a plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant’s allegedly negligent actions were the cause of their injuries. While this sounds simple in theory, in reality causation is a contested element in many personal injury cases. A recent case illustrates how a defendant may successfully argue that their actions, even if determined to be negligent, were not the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Gas GaugesA Gas Explosion Seriously Injures the Resident

The plaintiff was moving into a new apartment that was owned by a co-worker. Prior to allowing the plaintiff to move in, the homeowner contacted the local gas company and arranged for the gas to be turned on. A technician from the gas company came out to the house, but upon doing so, he discovered that the gas line had a leak in it. The technician turned the gas back off and left a warning card with a 20-year-old girl who was dating the plaintiff’s step-son.

The warning card left by the technician explained that there was a leak in the system and that it needed to be fixed before turning the gas back on. The card also explained that the technician had left the gas off, but the meter was not locked so that a plumber could turn it back on once the leak was fixed. This was in violation of the gas company’s policy, which required that meters on homes with leaking gas systems be locked by the technician when they leave the property.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a product liability case brought by a homeowner who sustained serious injuries after he fell while using the ladder manufactured by the defendant. The court hearing the case had to determine if the expert testimony provided by the plaintiff was properly admitted by the trial judge. Finding that it was, the court affirmed the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

LaddersThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a homeowner who was using a ladder manufactured by the defendant to change a few rusty screws in the gutter above his garage. The homeowner climbed the ladder, but before he could complete the job, the ladder buckled under his weight. The homeowner struck his head on the pavement of his driveway, causing bleeding and bruising in his brain. As a result, the homeowner now suffers from seizures, dementia, and quadriplegia.

The homeowner filed a product liability lawsuit against the ladder’s manufacturer, claiming that the ladder was not designed to support a 200-pound person and that a safer and feasible alternative existed. In support of his claim, the homeowner provided two experts. One expert focused his testimony on the durability of the ladder and whether it could support a 200-pound person. This expert concluded that the ladder may not have been able to support a 200-pound person, depending on how the weight was distributed. The other expert testified that the way the homeowner had placed the ladder was proper and that more substantial support beams on the ladder could have prevented it from buckling under the homeowner’s weight.

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Earlier this month, a Georgia appellate court issued an opinion that upheld a jury verdict of upwards of $21 million in a medical malpractice case. In upholding the jury’s liability and damages determinations, the court rejected all of the defendant doctor’s claims of error below. As a result of the court’s ruling, the plaintiff will receive the award as delivered by the jury.

HospitalThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a woman who died while undergoing a medical procedure that was conducted by the defendant doctor. The plaintiff’s wife was seeing the defendant doctor for chronic back pain. The doctor recommended she undergo an epidural steroid injection procedure to reduce inflammation and relieve her pain. The procedure consisted of the localized delivery of steroids directly into the spine.

The plaintiff’s wife arrived with her daughter-in-law at 10:00 a.m. She was seen by the nurse at 2:45 p.m., when she was prepped for the procedure. Afterwards, she took a nap while she was waiting for the procedure to begin. Immediately before the procedure, she was provided fentanyl and versed, which were to help with any pain and assist in relaxation. The procedure began at 5:45 p.m.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Mississippi issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case that illustrates why it is important for accident victims to secure dedicated and knowledgeable counsel to assist them with their claims. In the case, Davis v. Blaylock, the court dismissed three wrongful death cases against various defendants the plaintiff alleged were responsible for the death of her father because the plaintiff had previously filed a case based on the same series of events.

Medical RecordsThe Facts

The plaintiff, Long, lost her father while he was in the care of the defendant doctors. Believing that her father’s death was caused by the negligent care he received from the doctors, she filed a series of wrongful death lawsuits against the doctors in different counties. The first lawsuit was filed on November 4, 2014.

Two weeks after the filing of the first lawsuit, Long filed a second lawsuit against a different doctor she claimed was liable for her father’s death. On the same day, Long filed a third wrongful death lawsuit against the medical center where her father was being treated. Three weeks later, Long filed a fourth wrongful death case against the same medical center, making slightly different claims.

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Late last year, an appellate court in Ohio issued a written opinion affirming an intermediate appellate court’s decision that a city that allowed a stop sign to become overgrown with foliage was not entitled to governmental immunity. In the case, Bibler v. Stevenson, the court concluded that the city was not entitled to immunity because the stop sign was placed due to a state law requiring stop signs to be placed at intersections of “through highways.”

Stop SignThe Facts of the Case

Bibler was injured in a car accident when another motorist, Stevenson, allegedly ran a stop sign. Stevenson claimed that he did not see the stop sign, and the responding police officer agreed that the sign was overgrown with foliage and not visible to approaching motorists.

Bibler later filed a personal injury lawsuit against both Stevenson and the City of Findlay, the local government of the place where the accident had occurred. Bibler settled with Stevenson, and the case proceeded against the city only. In a pre-trial motion, the city argued that it was entitled to government immunity because under state law, governments are only liable for negligence involving “public roads,” which do not include traffic-control devices. Bibler agreed with that general statement but argued there was an exception when the traffic-control device was by the state’s “manual of uniform traffic control devices.”

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Toward the end of last year, a jury in Ohio reached a verdict in a case involving a man who had developed testicular cancer after drinking water that was contaminated by a DuPont plant nearby. According to an industry news source, the plaintiff lives near the Ohio-West Virginia border in Washington County, where it became apparent several years ago back that the DuPont facility was leaking perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA or C-8, into the area’s drinking water supply.

FactoryAfter a jury trial, the plaintiff was awarded $2 million for his injuries. Additionally, the report indicates that the jury found “actual malice,” meaning that punitive damages may also be awarded if the jury decides they are appropriate. The punitive damages phase of the trial is slated to move forward later this year. If the plaintiff is successful in obtaining punitive damages against DuPont, it is likely that his award would increase substantially.

This case is the third of its kind holding DuPont responsible for contaminated water in Washington County, Ohio. The other two cases, decided in 2015 and 2016, resulted in $1.6 million and $5.6 million, respectively. The $5.6 million award contained $500,000 in punitive damages. There are 39 more similar cases pending in the Ohio court system.

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Under the legal theory of premises liability, business owners have a general duty to ensure that the area accessible to customers is kept free from unreasonably dangerous conditions. When a business owner fails to take the necessary precautions to either remedy or warn visitors of a known harm, the business owner may be held liable for any injuries caused as a result.

HandgunOne of the key issues in premises liability cases is whether the defendant landowner knew or should have known that the dangerous condition existed at the time of the plaintiff’s accident. If it is determined that the business owner was oblivious to the harm and that the lack of knowledge was reasonable under the circumstances, the plaintiff’s premises liability case will likely fail. A recent case involving a tragic shooting at an apartment complex illustrates how a defendant landowner’s lack of knowledge of the dangerous condition causing the plaintiff’s injury can be fatal to a plaintiff’s case.

Mitchell v. Ridgewood East Apartments:  The Facts

Mitchell was visiting his aunt over New Year’s Eve, who lived at the defendant apartment complex. After midnight, Mitchell’s aunt went to bed, but Mitchell remained in the common areas of the complex, talking to other residents and guests. At around 2:55 a.m., Mitchell’s aunt heard shots and ran outside to find that Mitchell had been shot in the head.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who had slipped and fallen on a property co-owned by two individuals and maintained by a condo association. In the case, Garant v. Winchester, the court ultimately dismissed the plaintiff’s amended petition naming the condo association in the lawsuit because it was filed after the applicable statute of limitations had expired.

CondosThe Facts of the Case

In August 2010, Mrs. Garant tripped and fell outside 18-20 Woodland Court in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Believing that her fall was precipitated by a dangerous condition on the property, Garant planned on filing a premises liability case against the two owners of the property. Garant was aware that the property was maintained by a condo association, and she set out to determine the specific association that was in charge of the maintenance at the location so that the association could also be named in the lawsuit.

Garant consulted with the insurance company that covered the property and was informed that the association in charge of maintaining the premises was named the Woodland Court Condo Association. Garant also hired a title examiner to search the Registry of Deeds for the name of the association. That search revealed that the name of the association was 18-20 Woodland Condo Association. Garant finally searched the Secretary of Commerce’s database for the name of the association and was unable to come up with a result matching her query.

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The Washington, D.C. judicial system is designed to handle all of the disputes arising in the District and, at times, can get fairly backed up. In particular, cases that end up going to trial take up a lot of a court’s resources. For this reason, courts implement certain rules to ensure that only meritorious cases end up going to trial. The most common method by which cases get weeded out prior to trial is through summary judgment.

GravelSummary judgment is a phase of the trial process in which a judge is asked by one party to enter judgment in favor of that party before the case gets presented to a jury. In Washington, D.C., in order for a judge to properly grant a party’s motion for summary judgement, the judge must determine that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

Importantly, all reasonable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-moving party. This means that if a defendant moves for summary judgment, all matters of witness credibility and other potential unresolved inferences must be made in favor of the plaintiff. In other words, if the judge assumes everything the plaintiff claims is true, and the plaintiff is still not entitled to judgment, summary judgment in favor of the defendant should be granted. A recent premises liability case illustrates how summary judgment may be used by a defendant to get a case dismissed at an early stage.

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