Archive for the ‘Verdict’ 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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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…)

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.”

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.

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.

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Not Making the Grade

November 26, 2007

Harris v. I-44 Lebanon (Missouri)
(Late Model Race Car Driver Injured While Racing on a Dirt Track When a Large Rock Hit His Helmet; Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Waiver and Release Denied; Defense Verdict Issued After Trial)

The case involved late model racing on an oval dirt track in Lebanon, Missouri. The Plaintiff was a 51-year-old lifelong dirt track racer who was injured in 2003 when he was struck by a rock in the mouth area of his helmet during a late model dirt track race.

Roughly five months before this accident, the Lebanon I-44 Speedway was converted from an asphalt track to a dirt race track, which involved laying dirt over the asphalt surface. The initial batch of dirt was unsatisfactory so the track preparer, Randy Mooneyham, removed this dirt and put an entirely new type of dirt on the track. After it was placed on the track, he then used a rock picker, a rock rake and a grader to work the debris out of the track and pack it down throughout the 2003 season. Plaintiff raced on the track several times during 2003 before his accident.

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