Archive for the ‘Evidence’ Category

Out of Control? – Woman Injured by Display at Conference Wins Jury Verdict; Evidence Properly Excluded at Trial (MO)

September 1, 2015

Medley v. Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc. (Missouri)

The plaintiff attended a conference that was hosted by the defendant, and she was injured when she tripped over a window display set up in a boutique vendor area at the conference.  Plaintiff filed an action against the defendant for premises liability, alleging (1) that she was an invitee of the defendant, (2) the defendant controlled (or had the right to control) the boutique area that included the display, (3) the defendant negligently placed the window display in a crowded and congested area, and (4) plaintiff suffered injuries and damages as a result of the defendant’s negligence.

During trial, the defendant attempted to introduce documentary evidence, including a license agreement, between the defendant and the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (“CVC”) showing CVC’s involvement in the conference.  Plaintiff objected to the evidence  as irrelevant, and the trial court sustained the objections.  Defendant also sought to introduce witness testimony about CVC’s involvement in the conference and CVC’s relationship with the defendant.  However, the trial court held: “(1) there was no evidence to suggest that Defendant was not in possession of the premises where Plaintiff’s injury occurred; (2) the only relevant relationship in the case was the relationship between Plaintiff and Defendant; and (3) the evidence presented by Defendant in its offer of proof was not relevant.”  Thereafter, the defendant sought the introduction of a jury instruction that stated: “Your verdict must be for [D]efendant if you believe that [D]efendant was not in possession or control of the premises.” However, the trial court refused to submit the instruction.

Upon the conclusion of the trial, the jury entered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, finding that plaintiff’s total damages were $400,000.  The verdict assessed defendant seventy percent at fault and plaintiff thirty percent at fault, thereby awarding plaintiff $280,000 in damages.  The court entered a judgment consistent with the verdict, and defendant filed a motion for a new trial.  The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed. (more…)

Blanked Out – Injured Motocross Rider’s Claims Barred By Assumption of Risk (CA)

July 6, 2015

Storer v. E Street MX, Inc. (California)
(not a published opinion)

The plaintiff was injured while riding his motorcycle on a motocross track operated by the defendants.  After completing two or three laps on the track, the plaintiff “blanked out” and did not recall the incident.  He claimed something hit him, but he did not know what it was.  He filed an action against the defendants for negligence and premises liability.  The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment based upon both primary assumption of risk and the waiver and release document that the plaintiff signed prior to his participation in the motocross activities, and plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint shortly thereafter.

Plaintiff sough to add a new cause of for products liability and also sought to add additional negligence claims relating to defective design, construction, and maintenance of the racetrack, along with a failure to warn him of those defects.   The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion, ruling that the proposed amendment was “prejudicially late” and that it sought to add a “patently frivolous” cause of action for products liability.  Plaintiff had also requested delaying the defendants motion, but the court denied the request.  Thereafter, the trial court granted the defendants’ motion, and the plaintiff appealed. (more…)

Wild Ride – Paraplegic Injured on Roller Coaster Loses Jury Verdict (CA)

July 2, 2015

Rogers v. Magic Mountain, LLC (California)

Plaintiff was involved in an accident in 1996, which caused him to suffer from paraplegia and related medical complications.  In 2010, he rode the X2 “4th Dimension” roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain, an amusement park in Valencia, California.  While on the ride, plaintiff suffered a fracture to his right femur.  Plaintiff did not feel the injury as a result of his paraplegia.  A few days later, his right leg was amputated after blood clotting blocked the flow of blood to his leg.  Plaintiff sued the amusement park and the ride manufacturer, alleging premises liability, general negligence and products liability.

The amusement park filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court.  The case continued, and a ten day jury trial ensued.  After trial, the jury issued a special verdict, finding that the amusement park was negligent, but that its negligence was not a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff.  As to the ride manufacturer, the jury found that (1) the ride did not have potential risks that were known at the time of their design, manufacture and sale that would support a failure to warn claim, and (2) the design of the ride was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff, but that the risks of the ride did not outweigh the benefits of the design.  Therefore, the jury found that neither defendant had legal responsibility for the harm caused to the plaintiff.

Plaintiff appealed the decision contending that the special verdict was defective and the evidence was insufficient to support the special verdict.  However, the Court of Appeal disagreed and affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendants.  The Court noted that the plaintiff had not objected to the special verdict or any of its stipulated changes.  Regardless, the Court did not find any inconsistency, ambiguity, or unresolved issue in the special verdict.  Plaintiff complained that the jury had improperly allocated 100% fault to the plaintiff without first finding that the plaintiff was negligent.  However, the Court explained that the specific allocation of fault to the plaintiff was merely an “irregularity,” and not an “inconsistency.”  The jury had already determined that neither defendant’s was responsible (the park’s negligence did not cause the harm and the risk of the manufacturer’s design did not outweigh its benefits).  As a result, the Court noted that “it [did] not matter whether plaintiff was negligent or not — he [could not] recover from defendants.”  According to the Court, “the issues of negligence and causation were properly presented to the jury in the special verdict form.”  The Court was also convinced that “there was ample evidence from which the jury could properly conclude that [manufacturer] was unaware of potential risks at the time the X2 vehicles were designed.”

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.

(more…)

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.

Rough Terrain

July 20, 2012

Malaguit v. Ski Sundown, Inc. (Connecticut)
(A skier was rendered a quadriplegic during a fall in the ski area’s “terrain park”; the Court affirmed a general jury verdict in favor of the defendant ski area.)

The plaintiff was 15 years old at the time of the incident.  He attempted to ski over a snow jump in the ski area’s “terrain park” but fell, landing in a way that severely injured his spine.  Plaintiff filed a complaint against the ski area, claiming that it had been negligent in the building and maintenance of the snow jump.  Pursuant to Connecticut’s ski area statute, the defendant argued that the plaintiff had assumed the risk of injury and that the statute was a complete bar to plaintiff’s recovery.  According to the statute, ski areas are not liable for any injuries caused by terrain variations that are the result of “snow grooming.”  The defendant argued that the snow jump had been created as part of a process of snow grooming, such that plaintiff assumed the risks and that his injuries were caused by his own negligence.  The plaintiff countered by claiming that the snow jump was not a hazard inherent in the sport of skiing, unsuccessfully arguing that the jury should not be given instruction relating to the Connecticut skiing statute.  Thereafter, a jury returned a verdict for the defendant, and the plaintiff filed a motion to set it aside.  The motion was denied and the plaintiff appealed.

(more…)