One of the most hotly debated issues in personal injury law is the enforceability of arbitration contracts in cases against nursing homes and assisted living facilities. These clauses, when enforceable, prevent victims of Virginia nursing home abuse or neglect from filing a complaint in a court of law, and they require that they resolve the claim through binding arbitration.

ContractArbitration in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the fact that nursing homes are able to choose the arbitrator who will hear the case leaves many wondering whether the forum is as neutral as it is claimed. There are other problems with arbitration clauses as well. For example, many times, they are buried deep in paragraphs of small text, making it unlikely that someone will see and understand what exactly they are giving up by agreeing to arbitrate their future claims.

For these reasons, courts across the country have expressed a hesitancy to enforce some arbitration clauses. However, a court will enforce arbitration clauses in some cases, especially when the clause is clearly designated, the person signing the agreement was of sound mind, and the clause itself is not substantively against public policy. A recent case illustrates the type of clause that may be upheld by the courts; however, it is important to realize that these cases are decided on a case-by-case basis, and even the most seemingly insignificant difference in facts can result in a different outcome.

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Last month, an appellate court in Mississippi issued an interesting opinion that should act as a word of caution to victims who are considering bringing an Indiana personal injury case. The opinion discusses the breadth of a settlement agreement entered into by the plaintiff and one of the parties she named as a defendant. Ultimately, due to the broad language included in the agreement, the court concluded that the agreement excused an additional party from the plaintiff’s case, despite that not being her intention.

Sewer CoverThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was walking on the sidewalk in front of an auto parts store when she stepped into a sunken hole where a utility box had been placed. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of her fall, and she filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city where the accident occurred, the utility commission that placed the box, and the auto parts store.

During pre-trial negotiations, the plaintiff entered into settlement agreements with the city as well as the auto parts store. Relevant to this case is the agreement between the plaintiff and the city. That agreement included language that released the city from liability, as well as its “successors, agents, attorneys, insurers, subsidiaries, sister or parent companies, assigns, employees, representatives, [and] stockholders.”

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When someone is injured in a Virginia car accident, they may pursue compensation for the injuries they sustained through a personal injury lawsuit. Depending on the type of accident and the relationship between the parties, there may be one or more defenses that can prevent the defendant from being found liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. One defense, called the “fireman’s rule,” is discussed in a recent appellate opinion involving a police officer who was injured in a car accident while responding to the scene of an accident.

LawnmowerThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was on duty as a police officer when he received a radio call dispatching him to the scene of an accident where a motorist slid off the roadway, rolled, and ended up in a nearby field. The evidence presented showed that the motorist lost control of his vehicle when it encountered a patch of grass clippings. The clippings had been left behind when an employee of a nearby used car dealership mowed the grass and failed to clean up the clippings. A subsequent rain storm wet the clippings, which made a slick spot on the road.

As the plaintiff was responding to the scene, he encountered the area of the roadway with the wet grass clippings. The plaintiff lost control of his patrol car and ended up veering off the side of the road and into a tree, sustaining serious injuries as a result.

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Doctors and other medical professionals are held to a high standard when it comes to the level of care that is expected of them. Indeed, when a medical professional fails to live up to the standards to which society holds them, they may be held liable for any resulting injuries though a Virginia medical malpractice lawsuit. However, proving a case of medical malpractice requires knowledge of both the science behind the medicine and also the law that applies to medical malpractice cases.

Doctor's CoatOne of the most important decisions any medical malpractice plaintiff must make is in the selection of their expert witnesses. Since most judges and jurors do not have advanced medical knowledge, courts often require plaintiffs to present an expert witness who can explain certain complex issues to the jury and offer their expert opinion. Of course, expert witnesses are also held to a high standard and must be accepted by the court before their testimony will be admissible.

A recent case illustrates the difficulties one plaintiff had when attempting to establish the elements of her medical malpractice case after the court determined that her expert witness’ testimony was not admissible.

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Insurance companies are supposed to make life after a Virginia car accident easier, although in reality, that is not always the case. In too many cases, insurance companies look for ways to avoid paying out on an accident victim’s claim, leaving the accident victim without any real means of recovery.

Rear EndedEarlier this month, an appellate court in Alabama issued a written opinion in a car accident case that provides valuable insight to Virginia car accident victims. The case illustrates how difficult it can be to deal with an insurance company following a car accident – even a driver’s own insurance company.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in a car accident with another driver and sustained serious injuries as a result of the accident. Believing that the other driver was at fault for the accident, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver as well as that driver’s insurance company. Since the plaintiff was unsure whether the other driver’s insurance limits would cover all of his expenses, the plaintiff also named his own insurance company in the lawsuit, citing his policy’s underinsured motorist provision.

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When someone is injured due to the alleged negligence of another party, the injured party may be entitled to compensation for their injuries from the at-fault party through a Virginia personal injury case. All personal injury cases, however, must be filed within a certain amount of time. If a plaintiff files their case after the applicable statute of limitations has expired, the court will have no choice but to dismiss the case.

Old GarageOften, when a Virginia personal injury case is filed more than two years after the date of the injury, there is significant litigation over statutes of limitations. This is because the general statute of limitations for all Virginia personal injury cases is two years. Of course, in some cases, there are exceptions to the two-year rule, but these exceptions are rarely obvious and often must be determined by the courts.

A recent appellate court opinion illustrates the difficulties two plaintiffs encountered when they filed a personal injury lawsuit after the two-year statute of limitations.

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When hearing Virginia medical malpractice cases, courts enforce a strict set of procedural rules to ensure that cases proceed through the system in an orderly and efficient manner. While perhaps most cases are resolved without significant litigation over one party’s compliance with a procedural rule, occasionally the question of whether a party complied with a rule is the focus of significant litigation.

StopwatchVirginia procedural rules are very important because a party’s failure to follow the rules may result in serious sanctions, including the dismissal of a case or a judgment entered in favor of the opposing party. A recent appellate decision in a medical malpractice case illustrates how one plaintiff’s failure to diligently pursue her case resulted in her case’s dismissal.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant hospital was responsible for an injury she received while being treated at the hospital in 2003. In 2005, the plaintiff filed her first medical malpractice case against the hospital, but, since she failed to attached a required expert affidavit, the plaintiff voluntarily withdrew her case in 2007 with the intention of obtaining the affidavit and refiling the case.

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When a Virginia personal injury trial has concluded, and after the jury’s verdict has been rendered, the parties have an opportunity to file post-trial motions seeking relief for perceived errors that occurred during the trial. Most often, these post-trial motions seek to preserve certain rights for appeal or seek judgment as a matter of law on claims that were not established by the evidence. A recent product liability case illustrates the complex issues that may arise when arguing post-trial motions.

Speeding vanThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff owned a van manufactured by the defendant. One day, as the plaintiff was driving his sons and their fellow Boy Scouts home from a camping trip, the van rolled, and the plaintiff was paralyzed as a result. The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the van’s manufacturer, claiming that the van’s seatbelt mechanism was defective and that the manufacturer was negligent for failing to conduct safety testing on the mechanism.

The case proceeded to trial, where the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on only the claim regarding the manufacturer’s failure to conduct safety testing. However, despite the very serious nature of the plaintiff’s injuries, the jury awarded him only $1 million for past damages. No award was provided for future damages, despite evidence that the plaintiff will suffer from permanent paralysis for the rest of his life.

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When a patient suffers an injury due to the negligence of a medical professional, the patient may be entitled to compensation for their injuries through a Virginia medical malpractice lawsuit. However, as with other personal injury cases, medical malpractice cases must be filed within a certain amount of time.

White CoatThe time limits for medical malpractice cases in Virginia are outlined in Code of Virginia section 8.01-243. Under section 8.01-243, a plaintiff generally has two years from the date of the alleged negligent act to file a claim of medical malpractice. However, in some cases, that time frame can be extended. For example, in cases in which a foreign object is left in a patient’s body or the defendant is alleged to have engaged in any activity to prevent the plaintiff from discovering the alleged negligence of the defendant, the statute of limitations is extended until one year after the alleged act of negligence was discovered.

In certain cases in which the alleged act of negligence involved a “negligent failure to diagnose a malignant tumor,” the filing deadline is extended to one year after a medical professional properly diagnoses the tumor or cancer. A recent case out of Florida illustrates this principle.

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When someone is injured in a Virginia slip-and-fall accident and files a personal injury case seeking compensation for their injuries, the case will be heard by either a judge or a jury. Even if the case is heard by a jury, the judge will have an important role throughout the process by making determinations of which evidence will be presented to the jury, which substantive rules apply, and how the jury is instructed upon deliberation.

CobblestonesIn Virginia personal injury cases that are heard by a judge, the judge will have the final say in the ultimate determination of liability. In some cases, a different judge may make certain pre-trial evidentiary rulings in order to not unduly sway the mind of the judge hearing the case. Once a judge makes a determination as to liability, that decision will be final; however, the losing party may have several appealable issues that can be brought to the attention of a higher court. A recent slip-and-fall case illustrates a defendant’s unsuccessful attempt at reversing a judge-issued verdict.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff tripped on a defect in the sidewalk when exiting the defendant hospital. As a result of her fall, she broke her toe and sustained a serious back injury. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the hospital, arguing that the hospital was negligent in failing to properly maintain the sidewalk. As a part of her claim, the plaintiff had to establish that her injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of allowing the defect in the sidewalk to remain. Additionally, she had to establish that the defect in the sidewalk was the actual cause of her injuries.

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