Articles Posted in Personal Injury Law

Virginia courts apply the doctrine of contributory negligence when determining which parties will be able to seek damages following an accident. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, an accident victim’s negligence can completely bar their ability to receive compensation for their injuries. This is even the case if the plaintiff is just 5% responsible for the accident.

Old Pick-UpWhether an accident victim is considered “at fault” is usually a matter for the jury to determine. However, a recent case out of South Carolina held that a plaintiff’s potential negligence is not relevant to cases claiming that a vehicle was not safely designed to withstand the force of an accident.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a passenger in a Chevy Pick-up truck being driven by a friend. The two had been smoking synthetic marijuana and were driving on the highway when the driver ran a stop sign. As the pick-up truck entered the intersection, it was struck by another vehicle that had the right-of-way.

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In Virginia personal injury trials, the presiding judge has the power to determine which evidence the jury can consider. In doing so, the judge must consult with the rules of evidence, which are passed by the state legislature. As a general rule, only evidence that is relevant to the case may be considered. However, not all relevant information is admissible.

Police CarRelevant evidence may be inadmissible for a number of reasons. For example, hearsay evidence is generally excluded. Similarly, evidence that is very prejudicial to one party may be excluded even if it is technically relevant. In a recent car accident case, the court was tasked with determining whether a defendant’s two prior convictions for driving under the influence were admissible.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was on his way to work when he was involved in a head-on collision with another motorist, who was driving home from a bar. That driver was later determined to have a blood-alcohol content of .18, which is over twice the legal limit.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court affirmed the dismissal of a plaintiff’s personal injury case because the court determined that the plaintiff was injured while she was acting as a firefighter. Applying the “firefighter’s rule,” which was codified in a state statute, the court explained that the defendants were immune from liability because the plaintiff’s injury resulted “from the condition of fire protection or firefighting equipment or facilities.”

FirefighterThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a firefighter who was called out to fight a wildfire that had gotten out of control. Since the wildfire was rapidly spreading, many firefighters were called out to assist. The temporary barracks that were set up for firefighters filled up, and the plaintiff sought approval to set up camp in the infield of a racetrack that was acting as the center of operations. The plaintiff’s supervisor granted her permission to set up camp in the infield.

On the first night, there were no problems. The plaintiff woke up and fought the fire all day before returning. On the second night, however, a truck that was delivering water ran over the plaintiff, resulting in serious injuries. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the truck and several other defendants.

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Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a product liability lawsuit brought against tire manufacturing giant Goodyear. While the Supreme Court’s decision reversed a $2.7 million fine assessed by the lower court, the Court ordered the lower court to recalculate the figure.

TireThe Pre-Trial Discovery Process

After a lawsuit is filed, but before the case is heard by a jury, the parties go through the discovery process, in which each side exchanges documents, witness lists, and other potential evidence. As a general rule, a party must disclose all requested relevant evidence to opposing counsel, even if that evidence may be detrimental to the party’s case. A party’s failure to comply with a discovery request may result in sanctions imposed by the court.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs owned a motor home that was equipped with Goodyear tires. While the plaintiffs were driving the motor home on the highway, a tire blew out, sending the motor home off the road. The motor home flipped over, and several plaintiffs on board were injured. The plaintiffs filed a product liability claim against Goodyear, arguing that the tire was defective because it was not designed to operate at highway speeds.

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Before any case can be heard by a judge or a jury, the plaintiff must serve notice of the pending lawsuit to each and every one of the parties named as a defendant. A plaintiff’s failure to properly serve a party may result in a significant delay and may even cause an otherwise meritorious lawsuit to be prematurely dismissed.

signature lineIn Virginia, there are several requirements that a plaintiff must ensure are met when effectuating service on a defendant. For example, the service must be addressed to the individual named in the lawsuit, or if an organization is named, to a person legally authorized to accept service. Additionally, service must be made by first-class mail, and the packet sent to the defendant must include certain additional information in order to be considered complete. In personal injury cases in which service becomes an issue, it is often because the defendant claims that the wrong person was served. This is especially true when the case is filed against a public or government entity. A recent case shows how important proper service is in personal injury lawsuits.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in an accident with a school bus. The plaintiff claimed that the school bus driver was negligent in causing the accident and filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the driver as well as the school district that employed him. The plaintiff hired a process server, who went to the school district building, asked where service was accepted, and delivered service to the assistant to the Human Resources Director. The plaintiff did not attempt to personally serve the school bus driver.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit brought by a man who was injured while he was helping a friend move a large piece of furniture. According to the facts as presented in the court’s opinion, the plaintiff slipped and fell down a spiral staircase after he placed his weight on a handrail. As the plaintiff placed his weight on the handrail, the railing snapped, causing the plaintiff to lose his balance and fall down through the center of the spiral staircase.

Spiral StaircaseThe plaintiff brought a premises liability lawsuit against his friend’s landlord, claiming that the landlord had failed to keep the railing – which was in a common area of the apartment building – in a reasonably safe condition.

The Evidence Presented at Trial

The plaintiff was the only witness to testify at trial. The plaintiff explained that he was trying to move a large piece of furniture down the stairs, but the landing was very small, so he had to position himself partially down the stairs. In doing so, it was necessary to place “just a little bit of pressure” on the rail.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a written opinion in an interesting case brought by the surviving family of a man who was killed by a train. The case required the court to discuss the “last clear chance” doctrine and its applicability to cases in which both the accident victim and the defendant may have been negligent. Ultimately, given the specific facts of the case, the court determined that the plaintiff’s case should proceed to trial.

Railroad TracksThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s husband was killed as he was walking next to a set of railroad tracks. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s husband was walking next to the tracks, listening to music on his phone, when a train approached. Evidently, the plaintiff’s husband was unable to hear the approaching train due to the music, and as the train passed him, a part of the train that overhung past the tracks struck the plaintiff’s husband. He was killed instantly.

The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that owned the train, as well as the conductor and engineer. She claimed that, notwithstanding any possible negligence of her deceased husband, the defendants were the one with the last opportunity to avoid the collision, but they failed to do so. The trial court disagreed with the plaintiff’s argument and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

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Medical malpractice cases are some of the most complex and confusing types of personal injury cases. In fact, most medical malpractice cases require an understanding of the medical field beyond what most lawyers and judges possess. For this reason, Virginia lawmakers have implemented a requirement that all medical malpractice plaintiffs present a qualified expert to help explain to the judge and jury how the defendant’s actions fell below the required standard of care and also how those actions resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

SurgeryThe selection of medical experts in a medical malpractice case is an extremely important decision that can have an enormous effect on the outcome of the case. For example, if a witness is not properly qualified, or does not offer an opinion that is based upon acceptable and recognized practices of the profession, the expert’s opinion may be open to attack by the defense.

A recent opinion illustrates the problems one medical malpractice plaintiff encountered when a court determined that the experts he presented failed to establish that the defendant’s actions were responsible for his injuries.

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All Virginia drivers are responsible for carrying a certain amount of auto insurance for their vehicle in case they are in an accident that results in bodily injury or property damage. Drivers must also have insurance coverage in the event that an uninsured or underinsured motorist causes a collision. However, having the necessary insurance coverage does not guarantee that the insurance company will settle any claim made against the policy. In fact, in too many cases insurance companies will deny coverage for medical treatment that was received in the immediate aftermath of a serious accident.

Side DamageA recent case in front of a state appellate court illustrates one woman’s journey in getting an insurance company to cover the costs of the treatment she received in the hours after a car accident, caused by an uninsured motorist.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case was a passenger in her mother’s car when it was struck by another driver who had run a stop sign. The plaintiff was transported to the hospital via ambulance and admitted to the emergency room. Once she was seen in the emergency room, she was then sent to the trauma center. She was discharged later that day with a cervical collar.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a premises liability case that required the court to determine if a school could be held liable in a case in which a student slipped and fell on a patch of ice that formed after the school applied snow-melt in the immediate area. Ultimately, the court concluded that while the school’s actions did alter the natural state of the snow on its property, there was no evidence suggesting that the school’s actions increased the risk of an accident. Thus, the case against the school was dismissed.

Icy Weather

A Student Playing on an Ice Patch Slips and Falls

A student at the defendant middle school was playing on a patch of ice with some friends when he fell, chipping a tooth and fracturing his nose. The boy’s parents filed a premises liability lawsuit against the school, arguing that the school should be held liable for his injuries because it negligently allowed the ice patch to form.

The school moved for summary judgment, explaining that the snow or ice is cleared by school employees each morning. Evidence also showed that school employees applied snow-melt to the parking lot in order to get the snow and ice in the parking lot to melt. The school argued that it should not be held liable for the natural accumulation of snow or ice on the property.

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