Under the theory of premises liability, business owners have an obligation to ensure that the customers they invite into their stores are kept reasonably safe. In fact, customers of a commercial enterprise are known as “invitees” under the law and enjoy the highest level of protection. This means that businesses must use reasonable care to ensure that their business is reasonably safe. Included in this duty is the requirement that business owners warn customers of any potential hidden dangers on the premises, such as spills, holes, or uneven pavement.

Shopping CartsIn order for an injured party to hold a business liable for a “hidden danger,” the accident victim must establish that the business owner had knowledge of the danger to begin with. This can be proven through evidence showing that the business had actual knowledge of the danger, or evidence showing that the business should have known about the danger, given the surrounding facts. A recent lawsuit filed by an Ohio woman who was injured while at the supermarket shows how this can play out in real life.

A Woman Is Struck by a Motorized Grocery Cart

Earlier this month, a jury returned a $1.3 million verdict in favor of a woman who was seriously injured at the defendant’s grocery store after she was struck by a motorized grocery cart being operated by another customer. According to an industry news source reporting on the case, the 71-year-old woman was struck by the cart and tossed approximately four feet, where she struck her head on a shelf.

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Motorists in Virginia are required to carry a certain amount of auto insurance in order to legally operate a vehicle on any public road. In theory, this prevents an uninsured motorist from causing an accident that results in medical bills that he or she cannot pay. However, insurance companies are for-profit enterprises that may not always have the accident victim’s best interests in mind. As a result, Virginia law allows an accident victim to pursue a bad-faith claim against an insurance company that refuses to settle a claim without a good reason.

Parking LotVirginia Bad-Faith Claims

In Virginia, the applicable statute that governs bad-faith insurance claims is Va. Code § 8.01-66.1. The statute explains that an insurance company that fails to settle a claim out of bad faith can be ordered by a court to pay the accident victim any amount due, plus interest, as well as a reasonable fee for attorney’s fees and other expenses. In some cases, an insurance company that refuses to settle in bad faith may become liable for amounts above and beyond those outlined in the insurance policy. Importantly, the burden is on the accident victim to prove that the insurance company acted in bad faith.

A Recent Example of Alleged Bad Faith

In the case, Holloway v. Direct General Insurance Company, the plaintiff was injured in a low-speed auto accident occurring in a parking lot. The facts leading up to the accident were in dispute. Holloway, the plaintiff, claimed that the accident was Sykes’ fault, and Sykes, who was insured by the defendant insurance company, claimed that the accident was Holloway’s fault.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an interesting opinion in a product liability case involving a plaintiff’s claim against an auto maker that the soft-top convertible she was operating during a rollover accident failed to protect her from injury. The case, Holiday Motor Corporation v. Walters, was ultimately decided in favor of the defendant auto maker because the court determined that there was no legal duty to create a soft-top convertible that was capable of withstanding the force of a rollover accident.

Convertible CarThe Facts of the Case

Walters, the plaintiff, was driving her 1995 Mazda Miata. The car was a soft-top convertible. She was driving it on a two-lane highway behind a pick-up truck when she noticed a large object fall off the back of the truck. She swerved to avoid hitting the object and ended up rolling the vehicle.

When the car came to a stop, it was upside down and partially leaning against a tree. The roof of the convertible had caved in, and as a result Walters sustained serious back and neck injuries. She filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the vehicle. The argument she made was that the auto maker’s failure to manufacture the soft-top so that it would protect the occupants of the vehicle was a breach of the implied warranty of merchantability.

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Proving a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of a dangerous product is not always as easy as explaining how a product caused an injury. For example, depending on the type of claim being asserted, a plaintiff may need to present actual evidence that the product was defective, was poorly designed, or presented an unreasonable risk of injury. In fact, all personal injury cases have certain elements that must be proven. If a party fails to provide evidence tending to prove each of the elements of their claim, the judge must dismiss the case upon the defendant’s motion. This is exactly what happened to one family’s product liability case against a smoke detector manufacturer.

House on FireHosford v. BRK Brands, Inc.

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a young girl who died when her family’s mobile home caught fire. According to the court’s written opinion, the girl’s parents had installed two of the defendant’s smoke detectors in the mobile home. On the night of the tragedy, an electrical malfunction started a slow smoldering fire in the mobile home. The girl’s parents awoke to one of the smoke detectors, but the fire had already overtaken the home, and it was too late for them to save their daughter.

The family filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the smoke detectors. The plaintiffs made several claims, the most relevant of which claimed that the smoke alarms were defective at detecting the slow smoldering fire and did not go off with enough time to allow them to safely evacuate their home. After a trial, the jury determined that the manufacturer was not liable, and the plaintiff appealed.

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Most personal injury lawsuits are based on the theory of negligence. In essence, these lawsuits claim that one party, the defendant, is liable to another party, the plaintiff, as a result of some kind of negligent act or failure to act on the part of the defendant. In order to prove a negligence lawsuit, a plaintiff must show that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty that was violated by the defendant’s actions.

Semi-TruckGood Samaritan laws act to limit the liability of those who happen across an emergency and try to help but end up causing more harm in the process. The idea behind these laws is that the government wants to encourage people to help others in peril, so immunity from civil liability is given to those who try to help, even if their attempts end up causing additional injuries. However, there are limits to Good Samaritan laws. Generally, Good Samaritan laws do not apply if the actor was grossly negligent or reckless in providing the care. Another issue that may come up is exactly which conduct is covered under a Good Samaritan law. A recent case looks at one example of how a Good Samaritan law may affect a plaintiff’s right to recover compensation.

Carter v. Reese:  A Truck Rolls Backwards, Crushing a Man’s Leg

Carter, a truck driver, slipped and fell after unloading his rig. His leg became stuck in the gap, and he was unable to free himself, so he called out for help. Reese heard Carter’s cries for help and came to assist. Carter told Reese to get into the truck and put it in drive so that he could get his leg free. Carter told Reese to be sure not to put the truck in reverse.

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In a recent case, a woman bought a mountain bike from Target that she claimed had been previously returned. After riding the bike for just a few minutes, she fell off the bike at the bottom of a hill, injuring her shoulder. A bystander came over and showed her that the rear brakes had tightened on the back tire, releasing the brakes and causing her to fall. The woman claimed that a brake had been defective and had been repaired before it was resold to her. She claimed that she then returned the bike and left it at Target. Target claimed that it did not have the bike, and it had not been located. The bike was never located.

New Bike

The woman sued Target for selling her a bike with defective brakes. The case proceeded to trial, and the jury found in favor of Target. On appeal, the woman argued that the jury’s decision was “against the weight of the evidence.” She claimed that no reasonable jury could have reached that decision and that a new trial was warranted.

The court explained that while there was evidence that supported the woman’s version of events, there was also evidence supporting Target’s version of events. For example, she testified that she had bought the bike used and that an employee told her that it had been sent back due to a malfunctioning brake. On the other hand, Target’s employee testified that he took the bike from an area containing bikes for sale, rather than from those kept for repair. The woman also said that the bike had cardboard and plastic on it, which an employee testified are only kept on brand new bikes. Thus, while the jury could reasonably have found in favor of the woman, the jury could also reasonably have found in favor of Target. For these reasons, the verdict remained in place.

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After undergoing a procedure to have an intrauterine device (IUD) implanted, a woman filed a lawsuit against her doctor for battery. The woman argued that her doctor failed to obtain her informed consent prior to the procedure, since she later discovered that the IUD she had received was not approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). The IUD actually was on the approved FDA list for IUDs, but it did not meet the FDA’s requirements because it had been shipped to Canada rather than to the United States.

StethoscopeHowever, when the woman filed the complaint, she did not file a medical expert affidavit along with it, stating that the expert supported the allegations made in the lawsuit. In that state, plaintiffs who filed medical malpractice claims had to file a supporting medical expert affidavit with the complaint. The woman claimed that she did not need the medical expert affidavit because she was filing a claim for battery rather than for medical malpractice.

Yet, in a recent decision, the supreme court of that state found that she did need a medical expert affidavit even though she filed a “battery” claim. The court explained that battery claims against a medical provider based on a lack of informed consent should be subject to the same requirements as medical malpractice claims. Just as general medical malpractice claims do, the lawsuit required considering what the professional standard was in obtaining informed consent. For that reason, a medical expert affidavit was required.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Idaho issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case, affirming the dismissal of the case because the plaintiff failed to name the proper parties within the relevant statute of limitations. In the case, English v. Taylor, the court decided that the filing date of the amended complaint, rather than the date on which the plaintiffs sought leave to amend, was the date that triggered the lawsuit.

ClockThe Facts of the Case

Mrs. English underwent surgery at the defendant’s facility in 2011. As a result of a complication with the surgery, English suffered a stroke and sustained related injuries. After her recovery, English and her husband filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of one of the medical devices that was used in the surgery. At that time, neither the doctor who performed the surgery nor the medical facility where the surgery was performed were named as defendants.

One day before the two-year statute of limitations was over, the Englishes filed a request for a medical provider to review the surgery to determine if there may have been any medical malpractice involved. This “tolled” or paused the statute of limitations and provided the Englishes with an additional 30 days. During that 30-day period, the Englishes filed a motion with the court, asking for permission to amend their complaint to add the doctor as well as the medical facility as defendants, and to amend the cause of action to include a medical malpractice theory. The court granted permission.

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Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of merchandise all have a duty to ensure the goods in which they are dealing meet certain safety standards. If a dangerously made product, or a malfunctioning product, causes an injury to a buyer, that person may be able to seek compensation for their injuries through a product liability lawsuit.

Old MowerProduct liability lawsuits vary in terms of what must be proven. However, the essence of all product liability claims is the same; a dangerous product caused an injury to someone. As is the case with most other theories of liability, there are some defenses to a product liability lawsuit of which plaintiffs should be aware. In a recent case in front of a federal appeals court, the “optional equipment doctrine” was discussed, adopted, and applied.

The Optional Equipment Doctrine

In the case, Parks v. Ariens, the court determined that a lawnmower manufacturer was not liable under a product liability theory when it sold a ride-on lawnmower without a roll-cage or seatbelt. The plaintiff in the case was the surviving spouse of a man who had died when the lawnmower he purchased rolled and trapped him underneath. The man’s widow filed a product liability lawsuit against the lawnmower manufacturer, arguing that it should be responsible for her husband’s death because it was negligent to sell the lawnmower without the roll-cage or seatbelt.

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The United States was founded on certain principles that have remained with the country through the state and federal constitutions, common law decisions, and legislatively enacted statutes. One of these principles is the idea that a government entity should not be held liable for any injuries caused as a function of the government carrying out its governmental business. This is called government immunity.

CobblestonesHowever, to say that a government is immune from all lawsuits that may arise while carrying out government business would grossly overstate the principle. In fact, governments can – and often are – held liable for their negligent and reckless actions, as long as there is evidence to overcome the immunity. Generally speaking, a negligent act will not rise to the level of culpability necessary to overcome immunity. Instead, there must be some “willful” or “wanton” conduct. While an intentional action certainly would satisfy this requirement, it is not required. Courts are willing to infer this level of culpability if a plaintiff can show, for example, that a government entity knew about a dangerous defect but failed to do anything about it. This is exactly what happened in a recent case involving a woman who tripped and fell on an uneven sidewalk.

Bernardoni v. City of Saginaw:  The Facts

In this case, a woman tripped and fell on two uneven slabs of concrete that made up the sidewalk. She filed a lawsuit against the City of Saginaw, claiming that it should be held liable for her injuries because the city was negligent in failing to repair the sidewalk. In a pre-trial deposition, she claimed that she did not know how long the sidewalk had been in that condition, but she believed it to have been like that for at least 30 days. In addition to her testimony, she provided photographs taken 30 days after her fall, showing the uneven surface.

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