Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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American Cast Iron Pipe Company ("ACIPCO") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court to review the Court of Civil Appeals' decision to reverse a circuit court's dismissal of a workers' compensation action. Suit was filed by Karene Stricklin against ACIPCO who alleged her ward and conservatee, John Gray, sustained injuries while an ACIPCO employee. The Supreme Court granted the petition to consider, as a matter of first impression, whether Article II of the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act ("the ombudsman-program article"), which encompassed § 25-5-290 through § 25-5-294, Ala. Code 1975, precluded an action seeking to have a benefit-review agreement declared void ab initio on the basis of a signatory's mental incompetency when that action was not commenced so as to comply with the 60-day period set forth in § 25-5-292(b), Ala. Code 1975. To this, the Court concluded that it did not, and, thus, affirmed the Court of Civil Appeals' decision. View "Ex parte American Cast Iron Pipe Company." on Justia Law

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Robert Owen died 11 days after being transferred from Huntsville Hospital to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital ("UAB Hospital") for cardiac treatment. His widow Gloria Owen, as the personal representative of his estate, sued the ambulance company that had transported him, Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Inc. ("HEMSI"), as well as HEMSI employees Jacob Steele, Calvin Hui, Christopher Nunley, and Dea Calce, alleging that events that occurred during Robert's transport had "caused him unnecessary stress, worry, concern, anxiety, and/or a delay in treatment," leading to further heart damage and his eventual death. During discovery, Gloria sought information from the HEMSI defendants about the previous conduct and employment record of Steele, a licensed emergency medical technician ("EMT") and the assigned driver of the HEMSI ambulance that transported Robert. The HEMSI defendants objected to Gloria's requests and sought a protective order, arguing that the Alabama Medical Liability Act ("the AMLA") governed her claims and prohibited discovery related to any acts and omissions of a defendant that were not specifically described in the complaint. The circuit court rejected the HEMSI defendants' request for a protective order and directed them to produce the requested discovery; they petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, specifically a writ directing the trial court to amend its order to give effect to what they claimed were the applicable privilege and discovery protections of the AMLA. The Supreme Court granted the petition in part, and denied in part. The Court held all claims asserted by Gloria in this action were governed by the AMLA and subject to the limitations on discovery imposed by § 6-5-551. To the extent that the trial court's October 2021 order did not give effect to the § 6-5-551 privilege, the HEMSI defendants' petition was granted and the trial court was directed to modify that order. But to the extent the HEMSI defendants sought to prevent Gloria from discovering information regarding acts or omissions that were specifically alleged and described in her complaint, their petition was denied. View "Ex parte Huntsville Emergency Medical Services, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from the serial fraud of Brandy Murrah, the former owner of a drug-screening laboratory who was in prison for falsifying test results. The plaintiffs, Angel Avendano and Sandy Knowles, claimed to be victims of Murrah's fraud and alleged that social worker Victoria Shaw conspired with Murrah to falsify the results of their drug tests. Shaw moved to dismiss the claims against her, and the circuit court granted that motion. Avendano and Knowles appealed. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that Avendano and Knowles's complaint stated some viable claims against Shaw, it affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Avendano v. Shaw" on Justia Law

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Ball Healthcare Services, Inc. ("Ball Healthcare"), appealed a circuit court order denying its motion to compel arbitration in Ledell Flennory's wrongful-death suit against it. Because the Alabama Supreme Court determined Flennory did not meet his burden of rebutting Ball Healthcare's evidence that an enforceable arbitration agreement existed, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ball Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Flennory" on Justia Law

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Gary and Shiela Womble appealed a circuit court’s dismissal of their tort action against Collie Moore, III based on their failure to prosecute the action. In March 2018, the Wombles were injured as the result of a motor-vehicle accident in which Moore's vehicle rear-ended the Wombles' vehicle. The Wombles subsequently filed a complaint in the trial court asserting claims of negligence, wantonness, and loss of consortium against Moore. A little more than two months after that status conference, the Wombles' attorney filed a motion to withdraw as their counsel, in which he stated that he could "no longer effectively represent" them and that he had "informed the [Wombles] that they will have to timely comply with" the trial court's orders. The trial court granted that motion. The Wombles proceeded pro se, and participated in all scheduled proceedings and status conferences conducted between January and April 2021. The case was called for trial September 13, 2021, but the Wombles did not appeal. Moore’s counsel moved to dismiss based on the Wombles’ failure to prosecute. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. In October 2021, the Wombles moved pursuant to Rule 60(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., asking the trial court to set aside its judgment due to their own “excusable neglect.” The trial court dismissed the complaint. But finding no reversible error in the dismissal, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Womble v. Moore" on Justia Law

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Alabama Power Company ("Alabama Power"), B&N Clearing and Environmental, LLC ("B&N"), and Jettison Environmental, LLC ("Jettison") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motions to transfer this action to the Autauga Circuit Court and to enter an order granting the motions. In 2019, Zane Yates Curtis, a North Carolina resident who was employed by B&N, was killed when a portion of his tractor-trailer made contact with an energized overhead power line in Autauga County. At the time, Zane was dumping mulch at a landfill in Prattville that was operated by JB Waste Connection, LLC. Rachel Curtis, as the administrator of Zane's estate, filed a complaint for worker's compensation benefits against B&N in the Montgomery Circuit Court. B&N was a Delaware limited-liability company whose principal address was in Houston, Texas. It did not have a physical office in the State of Alabama, it did not have a principal office in Montgomery County or any other Alabama county, and none of its members were residents of Montgomery County or any other Alabama county. Rachel amended her complaint to include a workers’ compensation claim against B&N, and negligence and wantonness claims against Alabama Power, Jettison, and JB Waste. Alabama Power was an Alabama corporation that had its principal place of business in Birmingham. Jettison was an Alabama limited-liability company that had its principal place of business in Autauga County. JB Waste was an Alabama limited-liability company with an office in Montgomery County and did business in Montgomery County and Autauga County. B&N filed answers to both complaints, specifically including the defense of improper venue. Because venue in Montgomery County was not proper as to B&N when the action was commenced, the Alabama Supreme Court found the trial court exceeded its discretion in denying the motions to transfer the case to Autauga County, where venue would have been proper. The writ petition was granted and the Montgomery Court ordered to transfer the case to Autauga. View "Ex parte Alabama Power Company, et al." on Justia Law

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The City of Warrior ("Warrior") and the Town of Trafford ("Trafford") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying their motions for a summary judgment in this tort action filed by plaintiff James Griffin, as the personal representative of the estate of James R. Olvey, and to enter a summary judgment in Warrior's and Trafford's favor on the basis of immunity. A Warrior police officer saw a cehicle operated by Donald Wright run a red light. Though the officer tried to stop Wright's vehicle, Wright sped away and the officer pursued. A Trafford officer joined in pursuit. When Wright entered the interstate to avoid the police chase, the officers stopped their pursuit. Approximately three quarters of a mile from where the officers ceased their pursuit, Wright's vehicle collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Olvey in a southbound lane. Olvey died as a result of the collision. When Wright was apprehended at the collision scene, a syringe was found hanging from his right arm. Subsequent testing revealed that, at the time of the collision, he was under the influence of both marijuana and cocaine. Wright was subsequently criminally indicted in connection with Olvey's death. Griffin, as the personal representative of Olvey's estate, later sued, among others, the two officers and their respective Town employers, alleging among other things, that Olvey died as the result of the allegedly unskillful, negligent, and/or wanton conduct of the officers in pursuing Wright while carrying out duties. As to each municipality, Griffin further alleged, based on a theory of respondeat superior, that they were vicariously liable for the purported wrongful conduct of the officers. After review, the Supreme Court determined Warrior and Trafford demonstrated a clear legal right to summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Accordingly, the trial court was directed to enter a summary judgment in favor of each on Griffin's claims against them. View "Ex parte City of Warrior and Town of Trafford." on Justia Law

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Larry Lang appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Cabela's Wholesale, LLC ("Cabela's"), in his product-liability action against Cabela's based on the alleged failure of a hunting tree stand. On November 29, 2016, Lang was starting to climb down the ladder of a hunting tree stand. A telescoping mechanism in the ladder failed, and Lang fell to the ground and was severely injured. As a result, he had limited ability to walk, incurred significant medical bills, and incurred expenses to modify his home. The Alabama Supreme Court found that under the clear language of 6-5-521(b)-(d), Ala. Code 1975, commonly known as the innocent-seller act, Cabela's was not entitled to a summary judgment on Lang's claims against Cabela's as the seller of the tree stand. Cabela's was entitled to a summary judgment, however, on Lang's claims against Cabela's as the designer and manufacturer. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in part and reversed it in part. View "Lang v. Cabela's Wholesale, LLC." on Justia Law

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The Wilcox County Board of Education ("the Board") and individual Board members were defendants in a lawsuit filed by Jane Doe. Defendants petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to grant their motion for a summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to immunity. On November 11, 2010, Doe, at that time, was a 12th-grade student at Wilcox County Central High School, was sexually assaulted by the principal of the school, James Thomas. According to Doe, Thomas made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to her while she was serving as an aide in the school office and later called her into his private office, closed the door, and began kissing her and touching her. Doe reported the incident, and, as a result, Thomas was arrested the following day by the Wilcox County Sheriff's Department. After his arrest, Thomas was suspended from his duties as school principal and placed on administrative leave. He was ultimately convicted of having sexual contact with a student under the age of 19 years. In 2012, Doe initiated an action against Thomas, the Board, the individual members of the Board, and other individuals identified as former Wilcox County school-system superintendents. Doe asserted negligence and wantonness claims against the Board and the Board members, contending that those defendants had had knowledge of previous instances of similar misconduct by Thomas that they had allegedly failed to properly investigate or report. Doe also asserted claims of negligent or wanton hiring, training, and/or retention of Thomas against the Board and the Board members. The Supreme Court concluded the Board and the Board members, insofar as the Board members were sued in their official capacities, are entitled to immunity from the claims asserted against them but that the Board members were not entitled to State-agent immunity from the claims asserted against them in their individual capacities. View "Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Icylene Pearce, as the personal representative of the estate of her late husband, Dewitt Ray Pearce, appealed a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of the defendants in her wrongful-death action against the estate of Daniel Lea Day, deceased, and Enterprise Leasing Company-South Central, LLC ("Enterprise"). Dewitt was killed when the vehicle Day was driving collided head-on with Dewitt's vehicle. Pearce's appeal concerned the defense that Day suffered a sudden loss of consciousness before the collision. Pearce objected to the trial court's exclusion of certain evidence that she believed related to that defense, and she claimed that, even without considering that evidence, the trial court should have ordered a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Pearce v. The Estate of Daniel Lea Day, et al." on Justia Law