Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

Speed Wobble – Discovery Regarding Failure to Warn Allowed in Longboarding Death Case (VT)

November 5, 2015

Cernansky v. Lefebvre (Vermont)
(trial court disposition)

A college student was fatally injured while riding a longboard style of skateboard.  His estate brought a lawsuit against the roommate who lent him the board and the skateboard shop that sponsored the roommate as a longboard rider.  The complaint alleged wrongful death and negligent failure to warn the decedent about the dangers associated with the activity (the roommate did not provide the decedent with any safety instructions prior to taking the decedent longboarding).  The roommate filed a motion to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim, and the skateboard shop filed a motion to dismiss the action against it based on a lack of personal jurisdiction.

The United States District Court for the District of Vermont denied both motions.  First, the Court held that the estate’s complaint did state a claim against the roommate under Vermont law for negligent failure to warn.  The Court explained:

“. . . the Complaint alleges [the roommate] should have foreseen the potential for serious injury based upon his knowledge of long boarding. More specifically, [the roommate] allegedly should have foreseen that sending [the decedent], a first-time longboarder, down a hill without a helmet or instruction presented a risk of harm giving rise to a legal duty. Plaintiff claims that [the roommate] breached that duty.  ¶  The fact that the longboard was loaned to [the decedent] does not alter the negligence analysis. In the comparable context of negligent entrustment, the ‘theory requires a showing that the entruster knew or should have known some reason why entrusting the item to another was foolish or negligent.'”

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Failure to Warn – Supreme Court Find Triable Issue Regarding School District’s Breach of Duty to Deceased Youth (WY)

October 21, 2015

Amos v. Lincoln County School District No. 2 (Wyoming)

A five-year-old boy was attending a basketball game at a school that had been converted to a community center.  He was playing with other children on a stage near the basketball court when a lunchroom bench tipped over and fell on top of him, causing a basal skull fracture and killing him instantly.  The lunchroom bench had been removed from the gymnasium wall and had been placed against the wall in a storage room adjacent to the stage.  A year later, the boy’s personal representative filed a wrongful death action against the school district, along with the town and county where the facility was located.

The county filed an “affidavit of noninvolvement” with the trial court in lieu of an answer.  In response, the trial court entered an order dismissing the county from the action without prejudice.  The court explained that it found that “there [were] not enough facts to show that [the county was] responsible but if facts come forward or are discovered that show that [the county was] responsible, either directly or indirectly, [the county] shall be reinstated as a Defendant.”

The school district filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it had turned over possession and maintenance of the building to the community group such that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care and was, therefore, entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  The trial court denied the school district’s motion, holding: “Viewing these basic facts in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, the School District, as the owner, is in the same position as a landlord is to its tenants and their invitees. As such, it owed all persons entering the building as invitees the duty of reasonable and ordinary care under the circumstances.”  Notwithstanding the ruling, the trial court did express concern that the facts may not ultimately establish a breach of the school district’s duty or that the district’s actions were the proximate cause of the incident.

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Scuba Tragedy – Diver Drowns; Releases Enforceability to Protect Diver Association from Ordinary Negligence (HI)

September 3, 2015

Hambrock v. Smith (Hawaii)
(trial court disposition)

Plaintiff, her husband, and their children went on a recreational scuba diving excursion that departed from Hawaii.  During the excursion, plaintiff’s husband died by drowning.  Plaintiff brought a lawsuit against numerous defendants, including (1) the dive guide on the scuba excursion (“Smith”), (2) the co-captain of the dive vessel (“McCrea”), (3) a dive training organization and an association for diving instructors and dive centers in which both the Smith and McCrea were members (“PADI”), and (4) the corporate entity out of which the Smith and McCrea ran their scuba excursions (“HSS”).  The lawsuit alleged negligence (all defendants), gross negligence (all defendants), and vicarious liability on theories of apparent agency, agency by estoppel, and maritime joint venture (against PADI).

PADI filed a motion seeking summary judgment as to both the negligence claims and the vicarious liability claims against it (i.e., all claims except gross negligence) based on the liability releases signed by the plaintiff and her family prior to the scuba diving activities.  In addition to opposing PADI’s motion, the plaintiff also filed a motion for partial summary judgment of her own, challenging the enforceability of the releases.  In addressing the enforceability of the releases, the U.S. District Court for Hawaii reviewed both admiralty law and Hawaii state law.

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Blown Engine – Drag Racer Dies During a Track Rental Session; Racetrack Faced with Triable Issues, Possible Punitive Damages (NJ)

August 26, 2015

Cruz v. ATCO Raceway, Inc. (New Jersey)
(trial court disposition)

Jose Cruz was involved a fiery crash that occurred at the drag racing strip owned by the defendant.  The accident was caused by a “catastrophic engine failure,” and Jose was severely burned.  Although he managed to escape the car and walk away from the wreck, he ultimately died at the hospital.  A lawsuit was filed by Jose’s widow on her own behalf and on behalf of Jose’s estate, alleging negligence, negligence per se, wrongful death, and survivorship.  The lawsuit also sought punitive damages.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and the New Jersey District Court granted the motion in part and denied the motion in part. (more…)

Tragedy at the Beach – State Not Liable for Youth Killed by Collapsed Sand (CA)

July 27, 2015

Buchanan v. California Department of Parks and Recreation (California)
(unpublished opinion)

A seventeen year old boy and his brother participated in a church youth group outing to Sunset State Beach in California.  During the outing, the boy and another member of the church group “created an unnatural condition that was not common to nature and would not naturally occur in that location, in that they were engaged in digging large holes in the sand in a picnic area being used by the church group, which was located within the park boundaries, separated from the beach by sand dunes, but within sight of a nearby elevated life guard station.”  The sand collapsed, burying and killing the boy.  A lawsuit was filed by the boy’s family, with the amended complaint alleging two causes of action.  First, the plaintiffs alleged that the California Department of Parks and Recreation (“DPR”) employees observed (or should have observed) the digging activities and they had a duty to warn the boy and the group of the known risks.  Second, the boy’s brother alleged a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress as a bystander that witnessed the incident.

The DPR filed a demurrer to the amended complaint, asserting that the complaint failed to show that it owed a duty to the plaintiff and that statutory government immunity applied.  The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend based on the Hazardous Recreational Activity immunity found in Government Code Section 831.7, and it entered a judgment of dismissal in favor of the defendant.  Plaintiffs appealed. (more…)

Broken Record – Judgment in Favor of Scuba-Diving Instructor in Death Case Upheld (TX)

April 29, 2015

DeWolf v. Kohler (Texas)

In 2008, Terry Sean DeWolf died while scuba diving more than fifty miles off the coast of Massachusetts.  Initially, the medical examiner identified the cause of death as drowning, but later revised the conclusion to reflect that he died of natural causes (myocarditis).  Terry’ wife thereafter filed a lawsuit against numerous defendants, including (among others) the boat used for the dive, the individual who chartered the boat (Kohler), a television network which had carried a program on which Kohler had appeared, the dive-training company from which Kohler obtained credentials as a scuba-diving instructor, and the scuba-equipment manufacturer that manufactured the rebreather that Terry had used during the dive.  The wife alleged several claims, including violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act, the federal Death on the High Seas Act, and other state law claims.

Numerous motions were filed in this complicated lawsuit, and the trial court addressed many issues relating to personal jurisdiction and statutes of limitation.  Ultimately, Kohler was the only remaining defendant and the case proceeded to trial.  Following a jury trial, the court entered judgment in favor of the defendant, and the wife appealed.  On appeal, the wife challenged instructions that were given to the jury.

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