Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Bitten – Questions Certified to Supreme Court on Huge Jury Verdict for Student Stricken by Illness on School Tour (CT)

October 16, 2015

Munn v. Hotchkiss (Connecticut)

A fifteen-year-old freshman at a private boarding school participated in a month-long summer program in China organized by the school.  Prior to participating in the program, the school sent the student and her parents a packet outlining the activities and a set of legal forms requesting that the parents waive legal claims against the school.  The school also sent medical advice regarding the trip, including a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) webpage and a note that the school’s infirmary could “serve as a travel clinic.”  However, the CDC website reference was incorrect and the infirmary was unable to provide independent medical advice.  The school also later sent an itinerary, a packing list (including a general reference to “bug spray”), and a handbook on international travel.  However, there were no specific warnings about insect-borne diseases where health risks were mentioned in the materials.

During the program, the students went on a weekend excursion without any bug sprays warnings being given.  After walking through trees and brush, the student had numerous bug bites and an itchy welt on her left arm.  Ten days later, the student awoke with a headache, fever, and wooziness.  Her condition deteriorated and she was taken to the hospital.  Eventually, the student’s parents traveled to China from the United States to be with her in the hospital.  She was severely ill and partially paralyzed, and was airlifted back to New York.  The student was diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis (“TBE”), a viral infectious disease that affects the central nervous system.  She lost the ability to speak and lost cognitive function, although she managed to live a functional life, finishing high school and attending college.

The student and her parents filed a diversity action in federal court against the school, alleging that the school was negligent in the planning and supervision of the trip.  Plaintiffs claimed that the school failed to warn them about the risks of viral encephalitis and failed to provide her with protective clothing, bug spray, or vaccinations.  They also alleged that the school failed to provide medical personnel on the trip and failed to establish procedures for medical emergencies.  The defendant school argued that the “Agreement Waiver, and Release of Liability” form that was signed by the student’s parents prior to the program precluded liability, but the District Court excluded the document, finding that its language was ambiguous and that it was contrary to public policy under Connecticut law.

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On the Rocks – Woman Injury Jumping Off Rock in the Ocean; Liability is an Issue for the Jury (MA)

July 29, 2015

Cohen v. Elephant Rock Beach Club, Inc. (Massachusetts)
(trial court disposition)

he plaintiff was a guest at the defendant’s beach club.  During her stay, plaintiff saw guests swimming to and around, and jumping off of, a large rock that was 250 feet off the shore.  She decided that she wanted to go to the rock, and did so by walking from the beach to the water and swimming to the rock.  After watching adults and children take a running start and then jump off the highest part of the rock, plaintiff waited her turn and did the same thing.  After she jumped, her foot smashed into a portion of the rock below the surface of the water, resulting in a compound fracture of plaintiff’s leg.  Lifeguards from the defendant that were on duty noticed plaintiff after she hit the water and went to assist her.

Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging negligence based on premises liability, and a duty to warn her of the dangerous condition of the rock.  The defendant club filed a motion for summary judgment.  In support of its motion, the defendant filed a late supplemental expert witness report, and the plaintiff filed a motion to strike the report.  As to the motion to strike, the U.S. District Court denied the motion, finding that the untimely disclosure of the supplemental report was harmless.

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