Archive for the ‘Warnings’ 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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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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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.”

No Brakes – Village Not Responsible for Injuries to Woman Injured at the Bottom of Sledding Hill (NY)

June 24, 2015

Vannatta v. Village of Otisville (New York)

A woman was standing at the bottom of a hill in an area of village-owned park.  The area was not maintained by the village and was left in its natural state.  The hill had been used for sledding for approximately 50 years, and the woman had walked with her son to the hill to take him sledding.  As she was standing at the bottom of the hill, she was struck by someone coming down the hill.  She filed and action against the village claiming that it “failed to install and maintain proper signage or to employ personnel to prevent [or] safely restrict access to and use of the park and hill or to warn users, including pedestrians such as the Plaintiff, of dangers to such pedestrian users inherent in or incident to the use of the park and hill by others who may be using the park and hill for sleigh riding or similar recreational activities.”

The defendant moved for summary judgment under the New York General Obligations Law Section 9-103, which provides immunity “to private as well as government landowners against claims for ordinary negligence brought by members of the public who come on their property to engage in certain enumerated activities where the land is suitable for those activities.”  The trial court granted the motion and the plaintiff appealed.  On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court agreed that the statute applied and affirmed the trial court ruling, entering judgment for the defendant.

Fender Bender – Claims of Injured “Cyber Sport” Participant Dismissed (NY)

June 5, 2015

Yargeau v. Lasertron (New York)

Plaintiff was injured while participating in a game called Cyber Sport.  In Cyber Sport, participants drive cars similar to bumper cars while they attempt to scoop a ball into a handheld basket and then shoot the ball to score points.  A participant uses a joystick to move the car, but there are no brakes on the cars.  The cars are built to stop moving when the joystick is released or when a signal is sent to the car by an employee of the facility hosting the game.  After riding in her car during a warm up period, the plaintiff was sitting in her car listening to the referee give instructions to the players.  Although the referee had pressed the button that was supposed to give a signal causing all the cars to stop, at least one of the cars still had power and ended up striking plaintiff’s car from behind and causing her personal injury.

Plaintiff sued the manufacturer of the car and the facility hosting the game, alleging products liability claims and negligence.  The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which were granted by the trial court, and the plaintiff appealed. (more…)

Nice Save – Hockey Spectator Take a Puck in the Head; Team and Arena Not Liable (CT)

May 12, 2015

 

Lukacko v. Connecticut Islanders, LLC (Connecticut)

Plaintiff and his wife were spectators at an American Hockey League (“AHL”) game at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  At some point during the hockey match, a puck left the ice surface, traveled over the tempered glass barrier surrounding the rink, and struck plaintiff, causing a head laceration, scarring and emotional and physical distress.  Plaintiff filed a complaint against the hockey team and the arena operator alleging numerous counts of negligent conduct.

In response. the defendants claimed that the arena had typical protections for fans and patrons of the hockey game, including “plexiglass walls above the dasher boards surrounding the rink and netting placed at either end of the rink, in the most dangerous sections of the Arena in accordance with the approved standards of the [AHL].”  Plaintiff was not sitting at either end of the rink or behind the goals.  The defendants asked the Superior Court to adopt the “limited duty rule” (also referred to as the “baseball rule”), which is different from the general negligence standard.  Under the “limited duty rule,” once the defendant facility “has provided adequately screened seats for all those desiring them, the [facility] owner has fulfilled his duty of care as a matter of law.”  The Court explained that “[t]he limited duty rule holds that the stadium owner/operator is only responsible for screening the spectator seats in the most dangerous section of the field (in baseball, the area behind home plate).”

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Unfortunate Landing

September 6, 2012

Duchesneau v. Cornell University (Pennsylvania Court – New York Law Applied)
(An amateur gymnast suffered a significant injury while attempting a backflip on a rebounding Tumbl Trak apparatus; he sued the manufacturer of the apparatus for a failure to warn of the dangers associated with its use, and he sought punitive damages; the court denied the manufacturer’s motion, allowing the case to proceed to the jury.)

In its motion, the defendant manufacturer alleged (1) plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of failure to warn; (2) plaintiff was not entitled to punitive damages; and (3) plaintiff assumed the risk of injury when using the apparatus.  In support of its arguments, the manufacturer referred to “general knowledge” that “an individual might land on his head if he attempt[ed] a black flip on a rebounding [apparatus].”  Defendant also referred to plaintiff’s education in basic physics, the fact that he signed a waiver that stated that he understood the risks and dangers associated with gymnastics, the existence of a small warning label on the apparatus that warned of the potential for catastrophic injury (including paralysis or even death from falling on the head or neck), and plaintiff’s knowledge of the concept of spotting from his prior participation in cheerleading.  Viewing all of that evidence, defendant asserted that “‘common sense’ would have informed an individual that he or she was risking landing on their head by using the [apparatus], and, as such, [defendant] had no legal duty to warn Plaintiff.”

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Risks are in the Eyes of the (Little) Beholders

March 30, 2011

Playground Warning Sign a Bit Much?(Washington D.C.)
(Clearly American children are way behind this whole understanding the risks situation.)
FutureofCapitalism.com recently posted an entertaining image depicting the legal compartmentalization of recreational risks in today’s world. Perhaps we should consider checking identification at local parks just to be sure.