Late last month, the Nebraska State Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision granting a grocery store summary judgment in a personal injury lawsuit brought by an injured patron. According to the opinion, a customer injured herself after she slipped on a piece of watermelon on the store’s floor.

Wet FloorApparently, there were individuals in the grocery store providing watermelon samples at the time of the accident. The injured woman claimed that the store was negligent in several ways and that the store’s negligence resulted in her injuries. The grocery store moved for summary judgment and argued that they did not know of or create the dangerous condition. The lower court agreed with the defense and stated that although it was clear that watermelon samples were being distributed by the grocery store, that alone was insufficient to support a claim for negligence.

The plaintiff appealed this decision to the state supreme court. The plaintiff argued that the grocery store should have known that a customer may have dropped the watermelon. However, the court held that one could not reasonably conclude that the grocery store created the hazardous condition or even knew about it. The court found that, despite the plaintiff’s contentions, there was no proof that the grocery store had constructive knowledge of the dropped watermelon. In sum, the court held that since there was no evidence that substantiated a claim of constructive knowledge or the creation of a dangerous condition, the lawsuit should be dismissed.

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A state appellate court recently published an opinion in a medical negligence case stemming from a 2011 surgery. The case was brought by a couple after the wife underwent surgery at a local hospital and subsequently suffered a stroke. Approximately two years after the surgery, the couple brought a claim against the manufacturer of the medical device that the respondents used during the procedure. This lawsuit did not name the doctor who performed the surgery or the hospital where it was performed.

White CoatSeveral months later, and after the three-year statute of limitations had expired, the plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint. The couple wanted to add the doctor and hospital as new parties to the lawsuit under a medical malpractice theory. The hospital and doctor moved for summary judgment and argued that the statute of limitations barred the lawsuit because although the original case was filed before the statute of limitations had expired, the amended complaint naming them was untimely. The district court granted these motions, and the couple then appealed. The appellate court held that the defendants were correct and that the case against them should be dismissed

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A state appellate court recently decided that a personal injury case involving an underinsured motorist claim should be remanded back to the trial court, due to ambiguities in the insurance contract. The main issue that was being disputed was a clause in the insurer’s policy that required that an underinsured motorist claim must be brought within three years, although the policy also stated that the insured individual must first exhaust the underinsured’s insurance policy.

Signing a ContractIn this case, a mother and her two sons were involved in a serious car accident with an underinsured motorist. The mother filed a lawsuit against the other driver, and her own insurance company also filed a complaint against the driver. The insurance company was seeking damages for payments they made as a result of the accident. However, the other driver’s insurance policy coverage was minimal. The mother filed a claim with her own insurance company as well because the other driver’s policy was insufficient to cover her damages. However, since this was done more than three years after the accident, the insurance company filed a motion to dismiss and argued that the claim was barred by the requirement in the contract that all claims be brought within three years.

The trial court denied the insurance company’s motion, and they then appealed. The court affirmed the trial court’s decision and found that the policy was ambiguous and should be construed in favor of the plaintiff.

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In a recent opinion, a court held in favor of an injured driver who sued their insurance company after filing a claim with the company and receiving a very small amount of damages. The case stemmed from a 2007 accident in which the driver was rear-ended by another vehicle. Sadly, the accident caused serious harm to the driver’s back, and as a result, he filed a claim with his insurance company.

Wrecked CarThe driver brought the claim under the insurance company’s “uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.” The insurance company and the driver had several months of back and forth until the insurance company finally paid a very small amount. The driver went on to sue the insurance company and claimed that the company breached their contract and caused an unreasonable delay. The jury found in favor of the driver, and the insurance company then appealed. The insurance company argued that the driver produced erroneous expert testimony and was unreasonable. However, the District Court ruled in the driver’s favor and affirmed the $2,250,000 damages award.

New Mexico Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Insurance Policies

Although accidents are a natural risk that everyone takes when driving, it does not mean that the devastation is any less when it does occur. Drivers purchase insurance policies in order to mitigate the financial cost of an accident. However, frequently insurance does not cover all of the costs associated with an accident. A particularly difficult situation arises when the culpable party does not have insurance at all. In these situations, many drivers rely on their own insurance company’s under-insured or uninsured policy.

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The Supreme Court in the State of Rhode Island ruled on a case stemming from a tragic diving accident occurring back in 2008. The plaintiff, then 29, became paralyzed from the neck down after diving into a pond at a Veterans Memorial Park. The man and his wife filed a case against the state Department of Environmental Management and two individuals for negligence under a theory of premises liability.

Lake at DuskThe family claimed that the state failed to warn and guard against a dangerous condition on their property. The jury at the trial court returned a verdict in favor of the state. The plaintiffs then went on to file a motion for a new trial, but the state filed a cross-motion, arguing that they did not owe a duty to the plaintiff. The court referred to the state’s recreational use statute and found that although the state acknowledged the design of the pond was hazardous, the plaintiff also admitted that he was aware of the danger and that he may have been irresponsible in failing to check the depth of the water. The Supreme Court found that, even in looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the behavior of the state did not rise to egregious conduct. Moreover, there was no evidence to support the premise that the state “willfully or maliciously” failed to warn or guard against the dangerous condition. As a result, the court entered a judgment in favor of the State.

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The Maine Supreme Judicial Court released an opinion earlier this month regarding a tragic accident that resulted in the death of an employee who was driving a rental truck on behalf of his employer. The accident occurred in 2011 when the driver slid off an icy road. The victim’s family filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver’s employer and the truck rental company.

GavelThe lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. They found that the driver was barred from suit due to certain provisions in the Workers’ Compensation Act. Additionally, the truck rental company did not proximately cause the injuries the victim suffered. The plaintiff’s estate then appealed the judgment, but the court agreed with and affirmed the lower court’s judgment. They found that the plaintiff’s evidence did not establish proximate cause by the truck rental company and also that the lawsuit was barred by the Act.

New Mexico Respondeat Superior Law in Personal Injury Lawsuits

When individuals are injured in an accident, often another party is responsible for the accident. In those cases, the victim may wish to pursue a claim against the negligent party, and in some instances, if the party was acting within the scope of their employment when the accident occurred, they may even bring a lawsuit against the employer.

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Last month, the Supreme Court of Iowa decided a premises liability case stemming from a 2010 accident. According to the court’s written opinion, a business guest at a hotel slipped and fell on the ice in the parking lot and broke her ankle. She brought a personal injury lawsuit, claiming that the hotel negligently caused her injuries because it did not maintain safe premises, did not properly train its employees, failed to warn its guests of the icy sidewalk, and caused ice to form. During the trial, the court instructed the jury on the negligent training theory but did not follow the proper doctrine. Furthermore, it also instructed the jurors on certain safety codes. The jury determined that the hotel was 98 percent liable and that the plaintiff was two percent at fault. She was subsequently awarded $1.2 million.

Snowy CityThe defendants then appealed the decision, claiming that the jury instructions were erroneous. With regard to the negligent training theory, the defendants argued that the record did not contain evidence that imposed a duty of care on the hotel. The plaintiff contended that expert testimony was not required. However, the Supreme Court held that there must be some evidence or testimony to support the instruction. Moreover, the Supreme Court found that the lower court incorrectly over-emphasized certain evidence. As a result of these missteps, the Supreme Court reversed the decision and award and ordered a new trial.

Special Issues in Negligent Training and Hiring Cases in New Mexico

The above case highlighted the importance of appropriate jury instructions and preparation in personal injury lawsuits. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the decision was completely reversed, and a new trial was ordered because of these inappropriate jury instructions. This resulted in a dismissal of the jury award.

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Earlier this month, a Maryland appellate court issued a written opinion involving the death of a young boy who had been drinking at a friend’s home. In the case, Kiriakos v. Phillips, the court determined that under a traditional negligence analysis, an adult who knows that minors are consuming alcohol on their property has a duty to those who may be injured in an accident involving the intoxicated minors.

CocktailThe Facts of the Case

The Kiriakos case presented two cases consolidated for the purpose of appeal. The second case, Dankos v. Stapf, presents a clear factual scenario of when liability may arise. In the Dankos case, Dankos was with several friends drinking at one of his friends’ houses. The friend’s mother, Stapf, was present and didn’t do anything to stop the children from drinking. Importantly, she also didn’t do anything to stop them from driving.

On the next morning, one of the other intoxicated teens and Dankos left the Stapf home. The driver of the car was involved in a serious accident, and Dankos died as a result. The Dankos family filed a negligence lawsuit against Stapf, arguing that her negligence in allowing the minors to consume alcohol in her home contributed to their son’s death.

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The New Mexico Court of Appeals recently decided in favor of a plaintiff in a loss of consortium case stemming from a March 2010 accident. Apparently, several Albuquerque police officers responded to a report of a stolen car in a parking lot. The officers parked in various locations around the parking lot in unmarked cars.

Police SirensThe decedent and his children drove into the parking lot and parked next to the stolen car, and one of his children got out of the car and walked up to the stolen vehicle. The officers then parked one car behind the father, and as the father was backing out of the spot, he hit the police car. The officer then shot at the father’s car and hit him in the chest. Tragically, the unarmed father died from the gunshot wounds.

About four years later, the children’s guardian brought a lawsuit against the city for loss of consortium under the Tort Claims Act, arguing that the defendant shot the father in violation of City policy, and the father did not pose a threat. Furthermore, they contended that the city was also responsible for the death in the negligent hiring, training, and retraining of the officer who killed the father.

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The Supreme Court of Mississippi recently released a decision upholding a trial court’s denial of the state transportation commission’s request for sovereign immunity from a wrongful death claim brought on behalf of a motorcyclist who was allegedly killed because of unsafe conditions on a roadway operated by the defendant. The state supreme court ultimately rejected the defendant’s argument that roadway maintenance during construction is a discretionary function, which would protect the state from liability in the event that the negligence of state employees caused unsafe road conditions that resulted in the accident. Based on the high court’s ruling, the family of the deceased motorcyclist may be compensated by the state for their loss.

Red MotorcycleThe Plaintiff Dies after Losing Control of His Motorcycle in a Construction Zone on the Interstate

The case of Adams v. The Mississippi Transportation Commission was filed by the surviving family members of a man who died after he lost control of his motorcycle while changing lanes on the highway. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the accident occurred in a construction zone with an uneven surface between two of the lanes. After the accident, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death complaint and sought damages from the government, alleging that the Transportation Commission was negligent by failing to comply with relevant construction standards, failing to correctly use traffic control devices, failing to place necessary warnings on the roadway, and creating an unreasonably dangerous condition with a reckless disregard for the safety of the public.

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