Archive for August, 2012

Monkey Business

August 31, 2012

Howard v. Chimps, Inc. (Oregon)
(An intern at a chimpanzee sanctuary was injured when she was attacked by a chimpanzee;  she sued the sanctuary but the court dismissed her negligence and strict liability claims in light of the intern manual that she read and signed that included a waiver and release agreement;  the court also determined that there was no reasonable evidence of gross negligence.)

An intern at a chimpanzee sanctuary was injured just ten days after her start date.  A chimpanzee attacked her while she was cleaning a cage, and she brought an action against the sanctuary for negligence and strict liability.  Plaintiff thereafter moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that the waiver and release she signed was not enforceable.  The trial court denied that motion and later granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment finding that the waiver and release precluded the plaintiff’s claims.  Plaintiff then appealed.

(more…)

The Shaft

August 29, 2012

Nesbitt v. NMCA, et. al (Illinois – pending)
(A drag racer injured when a driveshaft broker and entered the cockpit is suing multiple parties, including the racing association, the sanctioning body, and the chassis manufacturer.)

CompetitionPlus.com recently posted a story here about the lawsuit filed in Cook County Court.  The article includes an initial response from the National Muscle Car Association (“NMCA”).  The NMCA is not surprised about the lawsuit considering the current state of the judicial system and is very confident in its ability to defend the claim, particularly in light of the waiver and release agreement signed by Nesbitt prior to participation.

NOTE: Legal claims that arise out of these types of incidents that appear to derive from nothing more than the risks inherent in a dangerous sporting activity like motorsports are obviously a significant reason for inconsistency and high cost associated with sports insurance products.

Little League Lawsuit Settlement

August 23, 2012

$14.5 Million Settlement for Injured Minor (New Jersey)
(A 12 year old pitcher playing in a youth baseball game was struck in the chest by a ball projected from a metal bat; his family’s lawsuit against the bat manufacturer, Little League Baseball, and the Sports Authority sporting goods chain was settled.)

As reported here on ESPN.com, the terms of the settlement agreement preclude the parties from discussing its details, including whether any of the defendants admitted liability.  It appears that the issue revolved around whether the metal bat used at the time of the incident was appropriate and safe.  Little League Baseball certifies certain bats for approved use in games involving children.  The injured boy encountered cardiac arrest that led to permanent brain damage, and the settlement will help provide long term care for him for the rest of his life.

What a Show

August 15, 2012

Metsker v. Carefree/Scott Fetzer Company (Florida)
(A guest at a recreational vehicle [“RV”] trade show was struck by a pole in a booth for the manufacturer of RV awnings, and he sued both the manufacture and the RV trade association;  the trial court granted the manufacturer’s summary judgment motion by the Court of Appeal reversed finding triable issues of fact.)

The show in question featured displays of RV vehicles and related accessories and services. The plaintiff paid a fee to enter the show.  While he was seated in the defendant manufacturer’s booth a metal pole fell and struck him.  After plaintiff filed his complaint, the manufacturer filed its motion for summary judgment claiming that while it had rented the booth for display, it “did not construct, control, or operate” the booth.  Rather, it had independently contracted with a third party for those booth services.  As such, the manufacturer claimed it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care.  The trial court agreed, granting the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Court explained that with regard to premises liability, “the issue of whether a party has a duty of care does not depend on ownership or title to the premises.  Instead, the appropriate inquiry is whether the party has the ability to exercise control over the premises.”  The Court further noted that “[t]wo or more parties may share control over land or business premises,” and as a result, liability “may rest upon more than one party.”

(more…)

Root of the Problem

August 3, 2012

Connelly v. City of Omaha (Nebraska)
(Children were injured while sledding at a public park when they struck a tree, and their parents filed an action agains the city for negligence; liability was imposed against the city for failing to remedy an unreasonable risk of harm.)

The Nebraska Supreme Court determined that the City of Omaha should have realized that the trees in the area of the park used by the public for sledding posed an unreasonable risk of danger.  Moreover, the Court explained that the city should have expected that lawful visitors to that area of the park for sledding would fail to protect themselves against the danger posed by trees in the area.  Key facts in the litigation revolved around the city’s efforts to restore and renovate the subject park where the incident occurred about 10 year prior to the incident.  The city held public hearing opportunities, and issues relating to “sledding opportunities” were discussed in detail.  City officials also specifically debated issues regarding the placement of trees and how such placement could affect the sledding activities.  Several years later, many trees were planted at the park in an area previously identified as the location for sledding.  There was also an indication of prior similar incidents in the area.

The verdict from a bench trial was affirmed, and the children and parents were awarded damages.  The damages of all parties were subject to damage caps pursuant to Nebraska’s statutory scheme limiting the liability exposure of political subdivisions.

NOTE: Cases like this are a reason that government entities are hesitant to fully embrace recreational activities on public lands.  It ia also a lesson to government entities to carefully select their words while making a public record on issues relating to potentially dangerous conditions on public lands.  Unfortunately, the impact of cases like this extends far beyond these parties and the City of Omaha.

Shooting Blind

August 1, 2012

Blind Industries and Services of Md. v. Route 40 Paintball Park (Maryland)
(A legally blind individual was denied the chance to play paintball at the defendant’s facility, and the plaintiff advocate group filed a claim on his behalf alleging a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); the defendant failed to produce evidence regarding a prior personal injury civil suit and the plaintiff filed a motion to compel, which was denied.)

In its demand for production of documents as part of discovery in the litigation, the plaintiff advocate group requested “[a]ll Documents and Communications relating to complaints, grievances, citations, or claims made against the [defendant] by any person for . . . negligence of any type, or safety hazards of any type.”  After the defendant served its responses, the plaintiff noted that the defendant had failed to produce documents relating to a tort action it had discovered alleging unsafe conditions at the defendant’s paintball fields.  The defendant argued that the prior lawsuit was not relevant to the plaintiff’s ADA claim.

The District Court ruled that the defendant was required to only produce copies of any publicly filed documents pertaining to the prior lawsuit.  The Court explained that requiring the defendant to conduct an extensive review and production concerning prior cases “would violate the principles of proportionality.”  Although there is a relatively low standard of relevance required for discovery, the Court felt it was too much of a burden on the defense to produce more than what was part of the public record.  The defendant did contend the blind individual’s visual impairment “posed a safety concern,” but the connection of that allegation with prior claims of unsafe conditions was clearly limited.  The fact that the documents sought by the plaintiff also implicated the attorney-client privilege played a role in the Court’s decision.

As part of its motion to compel, the plaintiff also sought further responses from the defendant regarding the factual basis underlying the defendant’s affirmative defenses, asking that the affirmative defenses be stricken if additional information was not provided. However, the Court found the initial responses, “[t]aken in totality,” to be sufficient.

NOTE: This is certainly a positive decision from a defense perspective, considering the broad standard of “relevancy” in discovery.  Defendants are always concerned about a plaintiff’s ability to make their life unnecessarily difficult (and costly) via the discovery process.  It appears that a fair balance was reached in this instance.