Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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This case involved a wrongful-death claim filed by Michael Rondini ("Rondini"), as personal representative of the estate of Megan Rondini ("Megan"), to recover damages for the death of his daughter Megan, who committed suicide almost eight months after she was allegedly sexually assaulted while enrolled as a student at the University of Alabama. Rondini sued Megan's alleged assailant, Terry Bunn, Jr., in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division, claiming that Bunn's alleged sexual assault and false imprisonment of Megan proximately caused her death. After Bunn moved for summary judgment, the federal court certified a question to the Alabama Supreme Court on whether Rondini's wrongful-death claim was viable under Alabama law. Both Rondini and Bunn framed their arguments around the Alabama Supreme Court's decision in Gilmore v. Shell Oil Co., 613 So. 2d 1272 (Ala. 1993). The Alabama Supreme Court responded by stating suicide would not, as a matter of law, absolve an alleged assailant of liability. “The statement in Gilmore that suicide is unforeseeable as a matter of law, was made in the context of a negligence case and does not apply in an intentional-tort case involving an allegation of sexual assault. … traditional negligence concepts like foreseeability and proximate cause, which form the backbone of the negligence analysis in Gilmore, have a more limited application in intentional-tort cases.” The Court held that a wrongful-death action could be pursued against a defendant when there is substantial evidence both that defendant sexually assaulted the decedent and that the assault was a cause in fact of the decedent's later suicide. “In such cases, it is unnecessary to analyze whether the decedent's suicide was a foreseeable consequence of the sexual assault; liability may attach without regard to whether the defendant intended or could have reasonably foreseen that result.” View "Rondini v. Bunn" on Justia Law

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Laura Register appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Outdoor Aluminum, Inc., as to her claim alleging retaliatory discharge. Register worked as a laborer for Outdoor Aluminum. As part of her employment, Register laid out metal material, drilled or punched holes in the material, and deburred and cut the material. Register punched holes in the metal material with a hydraulic-press machine. The hydraulic press became misaligned and was not punching through the metal. When Register attempted to fix the press, the press exploded, causing a two-inch long and half-inch thick piece of metal to strike Register on the head above her right eye and temple. Register reported the incident to her supervisor, Roger Wise. As a result of the incident, Register's neck and head were injured and she had headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, balance problems, and pain. Register sought workers' compensation benefits and medical treatment from Outdoor Aluminum. Approximately a year after Register’s accident and subsequent medical treatments, Outdoor Aluminum management expressed concern with the length of Register’s rehabilitation. In June 2017, a nurse case manager reported to Outdoor Aluminum that Register had been released to full duty with zero impairment by one doctor; by July, Register had not returned to work under advice of another doctor. Because she had not returned to work, and based on the nurse case manager’s report, Outdoor Aluminum terminated Register. In 2018, Register sued Outdoor Aluminum seeking workers' compensation benefits and damages for retaliatory discharge. The parties engaged in discovery. In May 2020, Outdoor Aluminum moved for summary judgment, arguing Register could not show that her workers' compensation claim was the sole motivating factor behind the termination of her employment. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding Register presented substantial evidence that there were genuine issues of material fact that should have been resolved by a jury. View "Register v. Outdoor Aluminum, Inc." on Justia Law

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Savannah Dail and Cindy Dail ("the Dails") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss the claims asserted against them by Brittany Jordan, in her individual capacity. In 2017, the parties were involved in an automobile accident involving several other vehicles. In 2019, Jordan filed a complaint on behalf of herself and Caden Jordan, her minor child, asserting claims of negligence and wantonness against Diane Tyner, the individual driving the automobile that collided with the rear of Jordan's automobile. In 2020, Jordan filed an amended complaint asserting additional claims against the Dails. Responding to the Dails' motion to dismiss, Jordan claimed that, although the Dails were listed on an incident and offense report concerning the accident, the report did not indicate that they were at fault and that Jordan did not learn of the Dails' fault in the accident until discovery had been conducted. The Alabama Supreme Court found that because Jordan's amended complaint did not relate back to the filing of the original complaint pursuant to Rule 15, Ala. R. Civ. P., it granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Savannah and Cindy Dail." on Justia Law

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Dalton Teal, a defendant in a pending personal-injury action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiff Paul Thomas, pursuant to which it struck Teal's affirmative defenses of self-defense and statutory immunity. Thomas, accompanied by a friend, Brian Pallante, were at a Birmingham bar when an altercation between Pallante and Teal arose on the premises. Bar staff separated the two; Pallante and Thomas left through the front door, and Teal left through the back. Following his exit, Teal waited on a nearby bench for friends who had accompanied him. Within minutes of their exit from the bar, Pallante and Thomas again encountered Teal, and Pallante allegedly initiated another confrontation. Thomas confirmed that Teal was on his back on the ground with Pallante above him, and that Pallante was obviously "getting the better of" Teal in the struggle. Teal testified that, after having been choked for approximately 15 to 20 seconds, he realized that he was not going to be able to get up and became "afraid that they were going to kill [him]." At that point, Teal drew a pistol and fired a single shot in an effort "to get them off of [him]." Teal, who indicated that his ability to aim his weapon was affected by the fact that Pallante had "[Teal's] arm pinned down," missed Pallante, at whom Teal was apparently aiming, but the shot struck Thomas in the abdomen, seriously injuring him. The Jefferson County District Attorney declined to bring criminal charges against Teal based on the conclusion that Pallante's actions had "led to the shooting that injured [Thomas]." Thomas filed a personal-injury action against Teal and other defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Teal presented substantial evidence demonstrating the existence of genuine issues of material fact regarding whether he was entitled to assert the affirmative defense of self-defense to Thomas's tort claims and whether he was entitled to statutory immunity. Therefore, the trial court erred in entering a partial summary judgment striking Teal's affirmative defenses premised on a theory of self-defense. Teal's petition was granted and a writ of mandamus issued to direct the trial court to vacate its order. View "Ex parte Dalton Teal." on Justia Law

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Alexandra Miller, a defendant in this personal-injury action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Madison Circuit Court to vacate its order purporting to grant plaintiff Ralph Mitchell's postjudgment motion seeking a new trial. Miller and Mitchell were involved in a motor-vehicle accident in May 2017. Mitchell sued Miller in the Madison Court, where the matter proceeded to a jury trial in January 2020. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court granted Mitchell's motion for a judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability; the jury subsequently returned a verdict awarding Mitchell damages totaling $22,368, the exact amount of medical expenses that Mitchell alleged at trial. The trial court entered a judgment on the jury's verdict on January 31, 2020. On February 10, 2020, Mitchell filed a timely postjudgment motion seeking a new trial on the ground that the jury's verdict allegedly erroneously failed to also include an award for "physical pain and suffering." The trial court scheduled Mitchell's motion for a hearing to be held on March 17, 2020. On March 13, 2020, the Alabama Supreme Court, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, issued an "Administrative Order Suspending All In-Person Court Proceedings for the Next Thirty Days," i.e., from March 16, 2020, through April 16, 2020. Additional orders further extended the deadline suspending in-person court proceedings. On June 11, 2020, Miller filed a response opposing Mitchell's postjudgment motion. Subsequent to the scheduled hearing, on June 18, 2020, the trial court entered an order purporting to grant Mitchell's postjudgment motion seeking a new trial. Miller moved to vacate Mitchell's motion, arguing the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to grant it. The trial court did not rule on Miller's motion, but set it for a hearing on August 11, 2020, which was more than 42 days after the entry of the June 18, 2020, order purporting to grant Mitchell's postjudgment motion. The Supreme Court concluded Miller demonstrated both that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the order purporting to grant Mitchell's postjudgment motion seeking a new trial, and a corresponding clear legal right to the requested relief. View "Ex parte Alexandra Grace Miller." on Justia Law

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Shirley English sued Murphy Oil USA, Inc., after she slipped and fell in the restroom of a Murphy Oil gas station. Murphy Oil moved for summary judgment, but the trial court denied the motion. After a bench trial, the court entered a judgment in favor of English. The trial court made no findings of fact during the trial and instead took the matter under consideration after inviting the parties to submit briefs. One day after the briefing deadline had passed, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of English and awarded her compensatory damages in the amount of $125,000. The trial court did not make any written factual findings as a part of its judgment. It appeared from the record that Murphy Oil did not move for a new trial or for judgment as a matter of law, and it did not otherwise challenge the sufficiency of the evidence before it appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. Murphy Oil argued on appeal that: (1) the trial court erred by denying its summary-judgment motion; (2) English offered no evidence at trial to sustain a judgment holding it liable for negligence; and (3) the trial court erred by admitting evidence of medical expenses that was unsupported by expert testimony. The Supreme Court determined none of Murphy Oil's arguments provided a ground for reversing the trial court judgment: Murphy Oil did not establish the Supreme Court should disregard the general rule against reviewing a trial court's denial of a summary- judgment motion after a trial on the merits. And its argument about the sufficiency of the evidence at trial was not properly before the Supreme Court. Finally, based on the record before it, the Supreme Court could not say that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of English's medical expenses. View "Murphy Oil, USA, Inc. v. English" on Justia Law

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Lonas Goins was injured when a train locomotive that he was operating collided with a garbage truck at a railroad intersection. Goins sued the owner and the driver of the truck. After a five-day trial, a jury found in favor of Goins and awarded him damages. Dissatisfied with the jury's damages award, Goins appealed the judgment, arguing that the trial court committed multiple errors that warranted a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court rejected Goins's arguments and affirmed the judgment. View "Goins v. Advanced Disposal Services Gulf Coast, LLC" on Justia Law

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Chris and Suzanne Moore, as parents and next friends of Sydney Moore, a minor, appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Pamela Tyson and Jennifer Douthit, two employees of the Huntsville City Board of Education ("the Board"), with regard to negligence and wantonness claims asserted against Tyson and Douthit by the Moores arising from injuries suffered by Sydney at her elementary school. Tyson was employed by the Board as a teacher at Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary School. Douthit was employed as the principal of the school. Sydney was enrolled at the school as a third-grade student in Tyson's class. Tyson left the students unsupervised in the classroom while she went to the restroom. During that time, Sydney and another student in the class left their seats, and, according to Sydney, the other student caused her to fall and hit her head and face on a counter in the classroom. Sydney suffered injuries from her fall, including fractures of her left orbital bone, her eye socket, and her nose and entrapment of her eye. Sydney was admitted for treatment at a hospital and underwent surgery as a result of the injuries. THe Alabama Supreme Court determined the Moores did not demonstrate the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Tyson and Douthit based on immunity. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Moore v. Tyson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company ("Allstate"), appealed a circuit court's order granting the posttrial motion of the plaintiff, Doyle Harbin, which sought the imposition of sanctions based on Allstate's purported violation of a pretrial mediation order. In 2015, Harbin was injured as the result of a motor-vehicle accident that he alleged was caused by Irvin Stewart. Harbin subsequently filed a complaint in the trial court asserting a negligence claim against Stewart. In the same complaint, Harbin also named Allstate, Harbin's automobile insurance carrier, as a defendant and sought to recover uninsured/underinsured-motorist ("UIM") benefits under his Allstate policy. Following Stewart's dismissal, Harbin, without opposition from Allstate, requested that the scheduled trial date be continued and the matter referred to mediation. Unable to reach a settlement, the matter proceeded to trial. A jury returned a $690,000 verdict in Harbin's favor. Approximately two weeks later, Harbin filed a "Motion for Entry of Judgment and Motion for Sanctions," essentially contending Allstate in bad faith failed to abide by the Order which set the Court-ordered mediation in which Allstate had agreed to participate. The motion requested Allstate pay Harbin's trial-related attorneys' fees. The Alabama Supreme Court found the evidence failed to show Allstate violated the trial court's mediation order, thus it exceeded its discretion by issuing Harbin's requested sanctions. The Court therefore reversed the portion of the trial court's order imposing sanctions exceeding Harbin's request for costs and fees totaling $57,516.36, and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Allstate Property & Casualty Ins. Co. v. Harbin" on Justia Law

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Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") and its insured, Kaitlin Ogletree, disagreed about the extent of damages incurred in an automobile accident that Ogletree had with an underinsured motorist. During closing arguments, Ogletree's counsel made inaccurate statements unsupported by the evidence presented at trial. The jury returned a verdict for Ogletree, and Allstate appealed on account of the allegedly improper closing argument. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the incorrect statements were prejudicial and adequate grounds for a new trial. Allstate's objection to the argument was properly preserved, and the Court found those statement were not provoked by an improper statement from Allstate's counsel. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Allstate Insurance Co. v. Ogletree" on Justia Law