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 in Oklahoma, a $350,000 settlement was reached in favor of a woman who was seriously injured at a track-and-field meet held at a local school. According to a news source covering the case, the woman and her husband were attending the meet as spectators and were standing in a section that had been fenced off and specifically designated as a place for people to watch the event. However, during the meet, a student athlete threw a discus that traveled into the spectator area and struck the plaintiff.

Track and FieldThe object that struck the plaintiff was a standard 3.5-pound discus that was plastic with a metal core. As a result of the incident, the 83-year-old woman suffered serious injuries, including a traumatic brain injury.

The woman and her husband filed a premises liability lawsuit against the school district as well as the Nebraska State Activities Association, alleging that the organizations failed to keep spectators safe. Specifically, the plaintiff and her husband claimed that there was not a sufficient barrier between the athletes and the spectators, that the organizations failed to warn spectators about the dangers involved, and that there was no safe area to observe.

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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, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case that arose from a bicycle accident that occurred on federally owned land. Ultimately, the case presented the court with the opportunity to determine whether the government was immune from liability under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which protects the discretionary acts of governments and government employees. Since the court determined that the alleged acts of negligence were discretionary, the court upheld the government’s sovereign immunity.

Forest TrailThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding her mountain bike in the De Soto National Forest. She did not look at the bulletin board at the trail head, which had a warning that the Couch Loop Trail was closed. The plaintiff and her friend continued down the Couch Loop Trail, eventually taking an alternate route off the main trail. This alternate route led the bikers to an area with various ramps, or “jumps.” The ramps were not built by the U.S. Forest Service, and the Forest Service claimed to have no knowledge of their existence.

The plaintiff rode over one of the ramps and fell, resulting in a serious injury. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that the government was negligent in maintaining the land and also negligent in failing to warn her about the dangerous conditions. The plaintiff claimed that government immunity did not apply in this instance, since the acts of the rangers were ministerial. A ministerial act is one that does not involve the exercise of discretion.

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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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Earlier this week, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by the parents of a young boy who was injured while playing baseball in a park owned and operated by the defendant city. Ultimately, the court determined that although the plaintiff presented evidence on appeal that the defendant city knew of the alleged hazard prior to their son’s injury, it could not be considered on appeal because the evidence was not presented at trial.

Baseball DiamondThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was participating in a baseball game in a park that was maintained by the defendant city. As the plaintiff was sliding into home base, his right foot and shin slid under the edge of the plate, which had been lifted due to repeated use. As the boy tried to stand, he broke his leg in two places.

A few months after the accident, the boy’s parents filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city, alleging that it had failed to safely maintain the field. In response, the city claimed that it was immune from the lawsuit due to the state’s recreational use statute. The plaintiff’s attorney issued a general objection to the application of the recreational use statute, but failed to provide a specific basis for the objection.

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