Articles Posted in Personal Injury Law

Virginia personal injury plaintiffs have to be careful in following the procedural rules in any case. In a recent Virginia Supreme Court decision, after a jury found in the plaintiffs’ favor, the Court determined the plaintiffs had amended their pleadings too late and sent their case back for a new trial in their carbon monoxide poisoning case.

CO DetectorThe Facts of the Case

The carbon monoxide detector went off in an apartment rented by four tenants, and a maintenance worker came and replaced the batteries. The alarm sounded again, and the tenants called the gas company. An inspector came and measured the carbon monoxide (CO) levels in the apartment. He found the CO levels were hazardous, turned off the gas supply to the furnace, and “red tagged” the furnace as the suspected source of the leak.

The apartment’s property management company then sent a maintenance worker to the apartment, who stated that he had found a loose vent pipe in the attic, reattached it, and rechecked the CO level. He repaired the vent pipe by using zip screws, which was contrary to manufacturer specifications. A city code enforcement officer later came, who found the CO levels were within the acceptable range and removed the red tag, but he did not go into the attic or inspect the furnace or vents.

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Medical malpractice cases are often complex, and in most instances, they require the testimony of at least one expert witness to explain certain medical or scientific issues to the jury. In an effort to ensure that only meritorious cases are filed and heard by the court, Virginia law makers passed a rule requiring Virginia medical malpractice plaintiffs to obtain a certification from an expert stating that the plaintiff’s case has merit.

Doctor's ComputerUnder section 8.01-20.1 of the Code of Virginia, the expert certification is required in all medical malpractice cases unless “the alleged act of negligence clearly lies within the range of the jury’s common knowledge and experience.” When a certification is required, it must state that the care provided by the named defendant “deviated from the applicable standard of care and the deviation was a proximate cause of the injuries claimed.”

A plaintiff’s failure to include an expert’s certification can result in the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious case. A recent case served as a major warning to one medical malpractice plaintiff, whose case was nearly dismissed with prejudice for the failure to file the necessary expert affidavit.

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When a consumer purchases a product, they expect not only that the product will function as it is supposed to function, but also that it will be safe and free from potentially harmful or dangerous defects. However, history has shown that not all products are safely designed or manufactured, and sometimes a product will be damaged in transit, making it unreasonably dangerous even when used for its intended purpose. In these situations, anyone who is injured as a result of the use of the product may be able to purse a claim for compensation through a Virginia product liability claim.

LoveseatIn Virginia, there are several types of product liability claims that can be brought against a number of parties. For example, a claim may be brought based on the defective design of a product, the negligent manufacturing of a product, or a company’s failure to warn the consumer about a known defect. As a general rule, a Virginia product liability claim can be brought against any person or business in the product’s chain of commerce, from the manufacturer to the retailer.

A recent case illustrates the trend toward holding all actors in the chain of commerce responsible for the safety of a product.

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Arbitration agreements have become more and more common over the years, especially in certain contexts. For example, many companies are beginning to include arbitration clauses into their contracts that are provided in advance of the service the company provides. For example, it is very common to see issues involving arbitration clauses come up in Virginia nursing home cases as well as Virginia car accident cases.

Signed ContractArbitration agreements, if valid, are generally enforceable. However, before a court will hold a party to their obligation to arbitrate a claim, the court must determine that the party was bound by the agreement. Obviously, signing an agreement is usually sufficient. However, in some cases, a non-signing party may be bound by an arbitration agreement as well. A recent case discusses a rental truck company’s attempts to compel a non-signing party to arbitrate a claim against the company.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a warehouse worker. One day, the plaintiff’s employer rented a truck and asked that the plaintiff deliver some merchandise to the state fair. The employee had not performed delivery services for the employer in the past, but he agreed to do so on this occasion.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an interesting personal injury case involving a student who ran over the feet of another student while engaging in what the court characterized as horseplay. The opinion is an interesting one and raises several issues that are relevant to Virginia car accident plaintiffs, including under which circumstances punitive damages may be available.

Broken AnkleThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a teenage girl who was the manager of the school’s baseball team. The defendant, a senior at the school, was a player on the team. One day, before the team boarded a bus to go to an away game, the defendant went to move his car so that he would be closer to the bus stop once the team returned.

Once the defendant reached his car and was on his way to re-park it, he saw the plaintiff walking in the parking lot. He approached the plaintiff from behind, and the plaintiff stepped aside to avoid being hit. However, the defendant’s 1.5-ton truck ran over both of the plaintiff’s feet. Another student lifted the plaintiff into the defendant’s truck to get medical attention. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant told her he was “sorry” and that he “only intended to bump her.” The defendant denied making this statement.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that required the court to discuss an issue that often arises in Virginia premises liability cases. The case involved a plaintiff who was injured while crossing the street from an off-site parking lot to the church that owned the lot. The court had to determine if the church could be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries despite the fact that the accident occurred on a public street that was not controlled by the church.

CrosswalkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a member of the defendant church. One evening, the plaintiff planned on attending an evening service at the church. He drove to the church and upon his arrival found that the church’s regular parking lot was full. A volunteer parking attendant directed the plaintiff to the church’s off-site parking lot across a five-lane road.

The plaintiff entered the off-site lot and parked his car. The parking lot was located mid-block, about 100 feet away from either intersection. The plaintiff exited the parking lot and, rather than walk over to the intersection to cross the street, crossed the street mid-block. As the plaintiff was crossing, he was struck by a passing motorist and seriously injured.

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Before a Virginia truck accident case reaches trial, it goes through several other stages. One of the most important stages of a personal injury case is the pre-trial discovery phase. During pre-trial discovery, each party is able to request certain information that the requesting party believes the opposing party has in its possession. While certain information and documents are privileged, in most cases, parties must provide what is ordered by the judge.

Semi-TruckOf course, much of the information sought during pre-trial discovery may be considered harmful to the party ordered to release it. However, that does not change the requirement that ordered evidence be handed over to the opposing side. Indeed, under Virginia Supreme Court Rule 4:12, a court can impose a number of sanctions against a party that fails to comply with a court’s discovery order, including precluding the party from making certain arguments, admitting certain evidence, or in some cases, striking the party’s filings.

A recent appellate decision illustrates how seriously courts take discovery requests and the serious consequences one plaintiff faced when she filed notice of her expert witnesses four months after the deadline.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Montana issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that arose when the plaintiff fell off a horse that was outfitted by the defendant. The case is of particular relevance to Virginia accident victims because the Virginia Equine Activity Liability Act is substantially similar to the statute in the court’s opinion.

Brown HorseGenerally speaking, when a company provides a service, such as outfitting, the company assumes a duty to make sure the customer is kept reasonably safe. However, specific statutes may apply in certain situations, limiting a company’s duty in those situations. This case analyzed a statute specific to horseback riding.

The Facts

The plaintiff was an inexperienced rider who arranged to go horseback riding with the defendant company. The plaintiff informed the company that he did not have much experience and relied on the company to outfit him with a horse that best fit his size and experience.

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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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