Federal Court Seeks Clarification of State Law in Premises Liability Lawsuit

As a general rule, the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit has their choice when it comes to the forum that hears the case. One of the choices the plaintiff must make is whether to file the lawsuit in state or federal court. There are many considerations that go into forum selection, but the law that will be applied to the case is one very important factor.

Federal courts are most accustomed to applying federal law. However, in some situations, a federal court will need to apply the law of a certain state in order to resolve the case. This is exactly what happened in a recent premises liability case filed in federal court that arose out of an accident that occurred in Oregon.

Johnson v. Gibson:  Is a City Employee an “Owner” of the Public Land He Maintains?

The case arose when the plaintiff stepped in a small hole while jogging in a public park. According to the court’s written opinion, the hole was dug by a city employee, who was charged with maintaining the park. The plaintiff named the city employee who dug the hole, as well as his supervisor, in the lawsuit.

At trial, the defendants asked the court to dismiss the case against them, based on their immunity as city employees. Specifically, they claimed that as city employees they were entitled to immunity based on an Oregon statute granting immunity to the “owners” of land who open their land up to the public for recreational uses. Since this exact issue had not yet been decided, this case required the federal court to interpret a state statute.

Rather than decide what the Oregon State Legislature meant when it wrote the statute, the federal court asked an Oregon court for guidance by certifying the specific question at issue. This gave the Oregon court the opportunity to interpret the law of the state.

Ultimately, the Oregon court determined that the city employees were not “owners” under the state law, and they were not entitled to immunity as a result. Therefore, the case against them should not be dismissed at such an early point. Thus, as a result of the ruling, the plaintiffs will be permitted to proceed with their lawsuit against the defendants in federal court.

Have You Been Injured in a Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Virginia slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation to help you recoup the costs associated with your injuries. As discussed above, the decision of where to file a personal injury action is but one of many very important decisions that face a plaintiff. It is critical to have an experienced and knowledgeable attorney on your side to help you throughout the process. The skilled advocates at The Schupak Law Firm have the experience you need to feel comfortable putting your case in their hands. With over three decades of combined experience, the injury attorneys at The Schupak Law Firm know what it takes to see a case through to the end, and to obtain a favorable verdict for a client. Call 703-491-7070 today to set up a free consultation.

See More Blog Posts:

Punitive Damages Awards in Injury and Wrongful Death Cases Often Exceed Compensatory Damages, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, March 4, 2016.

West Virginia Court Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Road Rage Accident Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, March 25, 2016.

Contact Information