Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing a doctrine of law that is rarely used in Virginia personal injury cases, but it is important nonetheless. The case involves the application of a doctrine called res ipsa loquitor, which can be used to permit a jury to make an inference that a defendant was negligent despite a lack of evidence showing the defendant acted negligently.

The Res Ipsa Loquitor Doctrine

The term res ipsa loquitor is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself,” and refers to a legal doctrine that may apply in cases where there is no direct proof that a defendant was negligent, but that the plaintiff’s injuries are such that they would not likely have resulted absent the defendant’s negligence.

The classic example of the res ipsa loquitor doctrine is the plaintiff who injured after a box falls on him while he is walking alongside a factory. In such a situation, the plaintiff would have no way of knowing where the box came from, who it belonged to, and why it fell. Thus, if the plaintiff filed a claim against the factory, he may be able to proceed under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor because boxes do not ordinarily fall from factory windows.

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After decades of dog owners vying for designer breeds, animal rescues across the country have become full of the “less desirable” breeds or animals that are of unknown descent. While scientists have for the most part rejected the idea that certain breeds or mixes of breeds are inherently dangerous, an animal’s upbringing is believed to have a significant impact on its personality. Thus, dogs that have been raised without a steady home or shelter, or have been subject to abuse, are more likely to lash out randomly.

Recently, the trend across the country has been to focus more on adopting those animals that need a home, rather than shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a designer breed. And while this certainly is a welcome change, some pet owners are unaware of an animal’s propensity to attack until they bring them home.

In the event of a dog attack, the owner of the dog may be liable for the injuries caused by their animal. However, Virginia dog bite law employs the “one bite rule,” which makes it difficult for the those bringing a case against an animal’s owner to succeed.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant, which was based almost exclusively on circumstantial evidence, should be permitted to proceed towards trial. The case is important to Virginia personal injury plaintiffs because it illustrates the importance of circumstantial evidence and that circumstantial evidence can be just as convincing as direct evidence.

Direct Evidence vs. Circumstantial Evidence

Evidence can be broken down into two main categories: direct and circumstantial. Direct evidence tends to prove an assertion without any necessary inferences. For example, if an eyewitness sees a crime occur, the eyewitness’ testimony that the defendant committed the offense would be considered direct evidence.

Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, requires at least one inference be made to prove an assertion. For example, fingerprints that are found at the scene of a crime would be circumstantial evidence that the defendant was at one time present at the crime scene and may have committed the crime. Both types of evidence can be equally persuasive, depending on the evidence itself, as well as the surrounding circumstances.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Virginia premises liability lawsuit discussing the extent of the duty that owners of a vacation rental home owe to their guests. Ultimately, the court concluded that the duty owed by a vacation rental homeowner is the same as the duty a landlord owes a tenant. In so holding, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the duty imposed on the defendant should be coextensive with that of an innkeeper.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s family rented a property in Virginia Beach that was owned by the defendants. The rental agreement was for one week, which is typical for the vacation rental houses in Virginia Beach. The house came fully furnished, and the property management company provided linens upon check-in.

Evidently, as the plaintiff was carrying a bin of linens into the home, she tripped on the raised transition strip between the carpet and tile flooring. The plaintiff fell to the ground and seriously injured her toe, which required two subsequent surgeries.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important and frequently misunderstood issue that commonly arises in Virginia car accident cases. The case required the court determine whether a plaintiff’s claim against an employer could proceed towards trial despite direct evidence that the employee was not engaged in work-related activities during the accident.

Ultimately, the court concluded that a plaintiff must provide actual evidence to rebut direct evidence to survive a summary judgment challenge and merely questioning the credibility of the defendant’s witness is not sufficient to give rise to a disputed fact.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident that occurred when another motorist struck her vehicle. The other driver was on the phone at the time of the accident, speaking with a friend from work.

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According to the most recent estimates, approximately 95% of civil cases are resolved through pre-trial settlement negotiations. While it may seem that an attorney’s assistance is not necessary with the chances being so high that a case will not make it to trial, the exact opposite is true. Virginia personal injury attorneys are crucial to negotiating favorable settlement offers, and ensuring that the terms of the offer are fair to their client.

A settlement agreement is a contract between the parties. Most often, the agreement is that the plaintiff will withdraw their case against the defendant and in return, the defendant will provide some amount of compensation to the plaintiff. Normally, the amount of compensation provided to the plaintiff is less than it would likely be if the plaintiff were to succeed at trial; however, the plaintiff is provided with the certainty that they will be recovering a given sum for their injuries

Virginia personal injury plaintiffs should take care in executing a settlement agreement because these are binding contracts. A recent case illustrates one potential problem that a plaintiff may face when executing a settlement agreement with some, but not all, of the potentially liable parties.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a plaintiff’s injuries that were sustained while riding his bike in a public park. The case presents an important issue for Virginia premises liability plaintiffs in that it discusses the concept of recreational-use immunity, which also applies in Virginia.

The case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff’s case should be permitted to proceed against the city that was responsible for maintaining the park, or if the park was entitled to recreational-use immunity. Ultimately, the court determined that the city was entitled to recreational-use immunity because the plaintiff failed to establish that the city knew of the hazard that caused his fall.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff fell off his bike and was seriously injured after striking a pothole while riding on a trail in a public park that was maintained by the defendant city. The plaintiff filed a premises liability case against the city.

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In a recent case, a state appellate court denied a plaintiff’s claim against an insurance company based on the fact that the state where the claim arose precluded accident victims from stacking their insurance policies. In that case, the insurance company had approved and paid out on a similar claim filed by the plaintiff a few years earlier. However, the court held that the insurance company’s previous error in paying out on the plaintiff’s claim did not mean that the insurance company was prevented from raising the anti-staking defense in the more recent case.

Had this case been brought in Virginia, the insurance company would not be able to raise the anti-stacking defense because Virginia allows accident victims to stack multiple insurance policies. Stacking allows for accident victims to combine the policy maximums from multiple policies, up to the point where they are able to recover fully for their injuries they sustained.

Without Insurance Policy Stacking

If an accident victim sustained $300,000 in a car accident in a state that does not allow stacking, and the at-fault motorist’s insurance policy has a policy maximum of $100,000, and the plaintiff’s own policy has a maximum of $150,000, the plaintiff will be able to recover the following:

  • $100,000 from the at-fault motorist’s policy, and
  • $50,000 from the accident victim’s policy

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In any Virginia personal injury claim, a plaintiff not only has to prove that the defendant acted with negligence or intent, but also that the plaintiff sustained compensable damages. In some cases, a defendant’s conduct may be so egregious that the plaintiff may be able to recover punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are generally very substantial, as they are designed to deter similar future conduct.

In one recent case, a court upheld an award of punitive damages of over $4 million in a nursing home neglect case. The plaintiffs brought their claims against a nursing facility after three residents died at the facilities in a “vent unit.” The vent unit was designed for ventilator-dependent patients. The plaintiffs claimed that the residents died due to inadequate staffing and a lack of supplies in the vent unit.

The evidence presented indicated that one resident’s breathing apparatus was detached without any alarm going off.  Another resident was found dead with his ventilator and its alarms turned off. The third resident’s tracheostomy tube was not properly replaced after it had been removed by nursing home staff. The plaintiffs claimed that all three deaths were caused by inadequate staffing and a lack of supplies.

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In a recent personal injury opinion, a state appellate court discussed the duty that a yoga instructor owed to the plaintiff, who was taking a class from the instructor when she was injured as the instructor adjusted her during a pose. The case is important for Virginia personal injury victims because it illustrates the type of analysis a court engages in when evaluating whether a defendant breached a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff took a yoga class that was taught by the defendant instructor. During the class at several different times, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant instructor made several adjustments to her body that caused her pain. These adjustments included putting a belt around the plaintiff’s waist to pull her hips in line, applying downward pressure on her lower back while in “cow” pose, and twisting her neck to both sides.

At the time, the plaintiff did not tell the defendant that the adjustments were causing her pain, nor did she ask him to stop. Later, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the instructor as well as the yoga studio.

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