Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Cedrick Nettles was struck by a wheel that detached from an automobile owned and operated by Antwon Aaron. Nettles sued Ryan Pettway, doing business as Pettway's Paint, Body and Wrecker Service ("Pettway"), alleging that Pettway had negligently and/or wantonly installed the wheel on the automobile and that Pettway's negligence and/or wantonness resulted in Nettles' injury. Aaron engaged Pettway to install "after market" wheel rims and tires on his automobile. The wheel rims and tires required the use of wheel adapters containing studs. Aaron purchased used adapters containing the studs from a discount tire store. He thereafter provided the wheel adapters, rims, and tires to Pettway for installation. Aaron explained that, approximately 10 to 12 hours after picking up the automobile from Pettway and driving it, the left rear tire of the automobile suddenly, unexpectedly, and without warning came off, injuring Nettles, who had been standing in a yard adjacent to the street on which Aaron was driving. The next day, Aaron returned the automobile to Pettway, who determined that three of the five studs on the left rear adapter were completely sheared off and that the other two were broken. The trial court entered summary judgment in Pettway's favor. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Nettles failed to produce substantial evidence by inference or ordinary means to establish that Pettway negligently installed the wheel that caused Nettles's injuries. Accordingly, the summary judgment in favor of Pettway was affirmed. View "Nettles v. Pettway d/b/a Pettway's Paint, Body & Wrecker Service" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Josie Wright was injured when she fell in front of the Millbrook Civic Center. She and her husband James sued the City of Millbrook based on her injuries. The City's liability turned on a question of statutory interpretation. The City asked the Alabama Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus to direct the Elmore Circuit Court to grant the City's motion for a summary judgment on the basis of Article 2 of the recreational-use statutes, sections 35-15- 20 through -28, Ala. Code 1975. That article immunized landowners from liability for accidents that occur on "outdoor recreational land." Because the City did not show the civic center was included within the definition of "outdoor recreational land" in Article 2, the Court denied the petition. View "Ex parte City of Millbrook." on Justia Law

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In 1992, Leslie Hill pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of distributing obscene material for renting adult videos at a video-rental store he owned. In November 2013, Hill was arrested in Homewood on a misdemeanor charge of harassing communications. Pursuant to that arrest, the Sheriff's Department determined that, based on Hill's 1992 convictions, he was required to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act ("SORNA"). Hill refused to do so on the ground that the 1992 convictions did not qualify as sex offenses under SORNA. The Sheriff's Department collaborated with WVTM-TV on a weekly televised news segment entitled "To Catch a Predator;" the Department would “select somebody that we were either having trouble finding or somebody that had refused to come register or whatever the case may be. . . .And we would type up a script for the Sheriff to read, and then we would take it over to his office and he would read it basically in front of one of the TV cameras in his office to run on TV." Hill was featured on the December 6, 2013, segment of "To Catch a Predator." After the December 6 broadcast, Hill, through his attorney, contacted the district attorney’s office expressing his opinion that his 1992 convictions did not constitute a sex offense under SORNA. A deputy district attorney agreed and requested that the warrants be recalled. On December 10, 2013, both warrants issued against Hill were recalled. Neither Hill nor his attorney contacted WVTM after the December 6 broadcast to inform it that the warrants against Hill had been recalled. On a December 13 airing of the program, a news anchor stated the warrants against Hill had been recalled. Nevertheless, Hill sued Sheriff Hale, a deputy and lieutenant, and WVTM, alleging state-law claims of defamation, false light, negligent training and supervision, and the tort of outrage against all defendants. In appeal no. 1180343, Birmingham Broadcasting (WVTM-TV) appealed a $250,000 judgment entered on a defamation verdict against it. In appeal no. 1180370, Hill appealed the dismissal of all the claims Hill asserted against three members of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department ("the Sheriff's Department") on the basis of state immunity. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed judgment in appeal no. 1180343 and rendered judgment in favor of WVTM, and affirmed judgment in appeal no. 1180370. View "Birmingham Broadcasting" on Justia Law

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Drury Hotels Company, LLC ("Drury"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss Maritza Diaz's tort claims against Drury. Diaz worked as a housekeeper at Drury's hotel in Montgomery. In her complaint, Diaz alleged that she was working at the hotel when she was attacked by an unknown assailant. Diaz alleged that the assailant "sexually assaulted and robbed [her] by placing a knife to her throat, threatening to harm [her], attempting to force [her to] have sexual intercourse and taking approximately $200 in property from [her]." Diaz further claimed that the assault caused her serious bodily injuries, emotional distress, and mental anguish. In December 2018, Diaz sued Drury, alleging claims of negligence and wantonness based on allegations that Drury had failed to provide a secure workplace. Diaz also alleged a claim of negligence based on the theory of premises liability, and she alleged claims against fictitiously named parties. As an alternative to her tort claims, Diaz also alleged a claim for workers' compensation benefits under the Act if her injuries are in fact covered under the Act. Given the procedural posture of this case and the arguments presented, the Supreme Court concluded Drury did not establish a clear legal right to mandamus relief. Thus, Drury's petition for a writ of mandamus was denied. The Court made no conclusion regarding whether Drury could ultimately be entitled to immunity under the exclusive-remedy provisions of the Act. View "Ex parte Drury Hotels Company, LLC." on Justia Law

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Petitioners George Cowgill and Elise Yarbrough, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to grant their motion for partial summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff's substitution of them for fictitiously named defendants was made after the expiration of the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Petitioners owned Black Mark 2, LLC, a Birmingham bar. On New Year's Eve 2012, plaintiff Paul Thomas was with his friend Brian Pallante. Pallante and another patron, Dalton Teal, got into an altercation. Staff from Black Market removed Teal. An unidentified female patron returned a handgun Teal had dropped inside Black Market. Teal waited outside for Thomas, Pallante and another to leave. Within five minutes, a second altercation ensued, ending with shots fired, and leaving Thomas injured. The Supreme Court that although Thomas disputed knowledge of petitioners' precise duties, it was undisputed he possessed sufficient information from which he should have known or was at least placed on notice of a factual basis for his eventual claims against them. "Because [he] knew of [petitioners'] involvement in [training and supervision of Black Market employees], it was incumbent upon [Thomas], before the statute of limitations on [his] claim expired, to investigate and evaluate the claim to determine who was responsible for [his injuries]." Therefore, the Court concluded the undisputed evidence demonstrated Thomas failed to exercise due diligence in identifying petitioners as proper party defendants; the trial court thus erred in denying petitioners' motion for partial summary judgment. The Court issued the writ and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Cowgill" on Justia Law

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Rose McClurg sued Birmingham Realty Company ("BRC") based on injuries she sustained when she fell in the parking lot of a shopping center owned by BRC. The circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of BRC, and McClurg appealed. Because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the hole in which McClurg stepped was an open and obvious danger, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed summary judgement. View "McClurg v. Birmingham Realty Company" on Justia Law

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BBH BMC, LLC, d/b/a Brookwood Baptist Medical Center ("Brookwood") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order compelling Brookwood to respond to certain interrogatories and requests for production. Donna Gaston arrived at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center ("the medical center") to participate in a voluntary psychiatric outpatient-treatment program. At approximately 8:40 a.m., Donna registered for the 9:00 a.m. outpatient group-therapy session in which she had enrolled. She then left the therapy area, accessed a parking deck on the premises of the medical center, and leaped to her death. Charles Gaston, Donna's husband, filed a wrongful-death action seeking to hold Brookwood liable for Donna's suicide. Specifically, he alleged the conduct of Brookwood's nurses and security fell below the applicable standard of care. The Supreme Court determined that although Gaston could discover information concerning those acts or omissions by those employees whose conduct was detailed specifically and factually described in the complaint as rendering Brookwood liable for Donna's death, Gaston was not entitled to discovery regarding acts or omissions by Brookwood related to other incidents. Therefore, because the requested discovery sought evidence of other acts or omissions of Brookwood and its employees beyond the alleged standard of care owed to Donna, Brookwood had shown a clear legal right to have the trial court's discovery order vacated. View "Ex parte BBH BMC, LLC, d/b/a Brookwood Baptist Medical Center." on Justia Law

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William "Will" Willimon, the former bishop of the North Alabama Annual Conference, United Methodist Church, Inc. ("the Conference"), and Debra Wallace-Padgett, the current bishop, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Talladega Circuit Court to grant them protective orders or, alternatively, to quash their deposition notices in an action against a former youth pastor alleging sexual abuse. Charles Terrell, one of the defendants in the underlying action, was a former youth pastor at First United Methodist Church of Sylacauga ("the Church"). The plaintiff, J.N., was a minor male congregant in the Church who filed the underlying action alleging Terrell had sexually abused him. The Supreme Court denied the petition, finding the bishops failed to demonstrate that J.N.'s requested depositions were merely a fishing expedition to discover impeachment evidence. Thus, they failed to demonstrate they had a clear legal right to a protective order or to an order quashing their deposition notices on that basis. View "Ex parte Willimon & Wallace-Padgett." on Justia Law

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GEICO Insurance Company appealed a trial court judgment entered in favor of plaintiffs Johnson Evans, Jimmy Smith, and Bernard Smith on plaintiffs' claims for damages resulting from an automobile accident caused by GEICO's insured, Bernard Grey. GEICO argued that the April 17, 2019, judgment entered against it was void because it did not receive notice of plaintiffs' claims against it or notice of the hearing on plaintiffs' claims. For their part, plaintiffs did not dispute that GEICO never received actual notice of any action pending against it in the present case. Instead, they argued GEICO had "constructive notice of potential litigation" because it had actual notice of Grey's accident involving plaintiffs -- which occurred in 2010 -- and that GEICO was aware that plaintiffs claimed to be injured by Grey's actions. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with GEIDO that "constructive notice of potential litigation" clearly fell short of "even the most basic requirements of due process." Because it was undisputed GEICO never received notice of any claim pending against it, the April 17 judgment violated due process, and was therefore void. Because a void judgment would not support an appeal, the trial court was instructed to vacate its judgment, and GEICO's appeal was thus dismissed. View "GEICO Insurance Co. v. Evans" on Justia Law

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James Cochran, the plaintiff in an unsuccessful personal-injury action, challenged a circuit court order setting aside a $2,000,000 default judgment entered against Pilar Engelland ("Pilar") after she initially failed to respond to his complaint. In 2012, Cochran was riding his motorcycle westbound on U.S. Highway 278 in Calhoun County, Alabama when he struck a horse that had entered the road. Cochran suffered significant injuries in the accident. Cochran retained attorney James Shelnutt to pursue legal remedies against any parties responsible for the presence of the horse in the road. Cochran and Shelnutt concluded that the horse struck by Cochran had escaped from a nearby farm. The owner of the farm was ultimately identified as Pilar. Shelnutt had telephone conversations with Pilar, her son, and Jerry Coley, who was leasing the farm from Pilar at the time of Cochran's accident. It appeared that the primary purpose of those conversations was to determine whether any insurance policies existed that might provide coverage for Cochran's accident. No such policies were identified, and there was no evidence that there was any more communication between Cochran and Pilar or her son after May 2013. Cochran sued Pilar and Coley alleging their negligence had caused the 2012 accident. Cochran attempted to serve Pilar by certified mail sent to the mailing address for the farm, but the notice was returned that same month marked "return to sender, not deliverable as addressed, unable to forward." The trial court record reflected that Coley was served and that he filed an answer denying liability for Cochran's injuries. Cochran proceeded to litigate his claim against Coley for approximately the next two years until May 31, 2016, when the claim against Coley was dismissed with prejudice. The trial court entered a $2,000,000 default judgment against Pilar after Cochran served her by publication with notice of his complaint and she failed to appear and file a response. When Pilar learned of the default judgment, she successfully moved to have the judgment set aside, arguing that service by publication was not proper because she had taken no steps to avoid service of process. Concurring with the trial court judgment setting aside the $2 million judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, finding service by publication was improper. View "Cochran v. Engelland" on Justia Law