Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Jane Doe ("Doe"), individually and as mother and next friend of her minor children, Judy Doe and John Doe, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to vacate its August 18, 2020, order staying all discovery in this case. On August 25, 2019, Doe was dropping off her children to stay with a friend at the Campus Evolution Villages apartments in Tuscaloosa. Doe alleged that, while she was in the common area of the apartments, Tereza Jones assaulted her and raped her in front of her children and then fled the scene. Jones was later arrested and was being prosecuted by the State of Alabama for first-degree rape. Doe sued Jones civilly for assault and battery, invasion of privacy, and the tort of outrage; Doe sued the various property management entities for negligence and/or wantonness. Doe moved for the entry of a default against Jones. Defendants Gulf South and Pinnacle jointly moved to stay discovery pending the criminal proceedings against Jones. On August 18, 2020, the trial court granted the motion to stay. On that same date, it denied Doe's motion for the entry of a default against Jones. The Alabama Supreme Court found Gulf South and Pinnacle, both corporations, filed the motion to stay based on speculation that Jones might later invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in response to discovery in this civil action. Gulf South and Pinnacle did not have their own Fifth Amendment privilege to assert, and the Court found they could not assert Fifth Amendment protections on behalf of Jones. Therefore, the Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in granting their motion for a stay. Thus, the Court concluded Doe established a clear right to mandamus relief. Her petition was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its August 18, 2020 order staying the case. View "Ex parte Jane Doe, individually and as mother and next friend of her minor children, Judy Doe and John Doe." on Justia Law

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John Dee and Brenda Peterson appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Triad of Alabama, LLC, d/b/a Flowers Hospital ("Triad") on the Petersons' claims asserted in their medical-malpractice action. John was admitted to Flowers Hospital ("the hospital") in August 2014 for treatment of abdominal pain and fever that was caused by colitis. John was suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, end-stage renal disease, and diabetes. While he was admitted to the hospital in August 2014, John had a peripherally inserted central catheter ("PICC line") in his left shoulder. According to the Petersons, after John had suffered "constant pain and aggravation" around the area where the PICC line was inserted, a doctor agreed to have the PICC line removed the following morning. The Petersons asserted that, a nurse, Matthew Starr, was busy with other patients to immediately remove the line. The Petersons contended that another doctor was then called, that the doctor advised the nurses treating John to take out the PICC line, and that the nurses refused. The Petersons asserted that Starr "abandoned" John. Thereafter, John experienced a deep vein thrombosis ("DVT") in his upper left arm, which caused swelling and tissue necrosis. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the Petersons did not make an argument supported by sufficient authority to demonstrate the trial court erred. "They failed to present expert medical testimony from a similarly situated health-care provider to establish the applicable standard of care, a deviation from that standard, and proximate causation linking the actions of hospital staff to John's injury." View "Peterson v. Triad of Alabama, LLC, d/b/a Flowers Hospital" on Justia Law

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Patrick Jackson appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Voncille Allen, as the personal representative of the estate of Valerie Allen ("the estate"), and Penn Tank Lines, Inc. ("PTL"). In 2016, Jackson was injured in an automobile accident while receiving training and riding as a passenger in a tractor-tanker trailer commercial motor vehicle ("the CMV") driven by Valerie Allen ("Allen"). Allen died as a result of the accident. Jackson was an employee of PTL and was being trained by Allen at the time of the accident. Allen owned the CMV, and PTL was leasing the vehicle from Allen, who worked for PTL, delivering fuel, under an independent-contractor agreement. Jackson received medical treatment for his injuries after the accident, and PTL's workers' compensation insurance covered the costs of the treatment. In 2018, Jackson sued the estate and PTL, alleging claims of negligence and "gross negligence and/or wantonness" against the estate and a claim of negligent or wanton hiring, training, and supervision against PTL; in addition, Jackson sought to hold PTL vicariously liable for Allen's actions through the doctrine of respondeat superior. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirm the judgment insofar as the trial court determined that PTL was entitled to complete immunity from Jackson's claims against it pursuant to the exclusive-remedy provisions of Workers' Compensation Act. The Court reversed insofar as the trial court determined, as a matter of law, that Allen was PTL's agent under the purview of the exclusive-remedy provisions of the Act. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Jackson v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Steve Lands appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Betty Ward d/b/a Lucky B's Trucking ("Lucky B") in a suit he filed seeking damages for injuries sustained on the job. The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of Lucky B on both of Lands's claims against it -- negligence and wantonness -- because it held that Lucky B did not owe Lands a duty. Tennessee Valley Land and Timber, LLC ("TVL&T"), contracted with Lands to haul timber for processing at various locations in the Southeast. Kenneth Ward, the owner of TVL&T, provided Lands with a 1994 Peterbilt 379 Truck ("the truck") to make the deliveries. According to Lands, when Kenneth first provided the truck, he told Lands that it was sometimes difficult to start. If the truck would not start, Kenneth instructed Lands to use a "hot-wire" method, which required Lands to use a 12-inch piece of partially exposed wire to "jump" the truck while its ignition was left in the on position. Although TVL&T allowed Lands to use the truck for work, the truck was owned by Lucky B. After a delivery, Lands had to hot-wire the truck to start it. Lands put the truck in neutral, engaged the parking brake, and got out of the truck to use the hot-wire method. With both feet on the front-wheel axle and a cigarette lighter in hand, he lifted the hood and connected the 12-inch piece of wire to the firewall solenoid. The truck jumped back to life and sent Lands to the ground. The truck then rolled over Lands, severing the muscles in the lower half of his leg. Lands sued Lucky B, TVL&T, and other entities for negligence and wantonness. The essence of Lands's claims was that Lucky B, as the owner of the truck, had a duty under statute, regulation, and common law to inspect the truck and maintain it in safe condition. By failing to inspect and maintain it, he argued, the truck fell into disrepair and triggered the sequence of events that caused his injuries. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Lands made out a prima facie case of negligence. While questions about causation and his own possible negligence remained, the Court found Lands was entitled to have those questions answered by a jury. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's summary judgment on that claim and remanded the case for further proceedings. With respect to Lands' wantonness claims, the Court found no evidence of heightened culpability required to prove wantonness. Judgment as to that claim was affirmed. View "Lands v. Ward d/b/a Lucky B's Trucking" on Justia Law

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Jackson Hospital & Clinic, Inc. ("Jackson Hospital") appealed the denial of its postjudgment motion seeking a judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial following the entry of a judgment on a jury verdict against Jackson Hospital and in favor of plaintiff, Cameron Murphy. In February 2011, Murphy, after experiencing back pain, was referred for treatment to Dr. Margaret Vereb, a board-certified urologist employed by Jackson Hospital. Dr. Vereb determined that Murphy had kidney stones and recommended a ureteroscopy procedure to remove the stones. During that procedure, Dr. Vereb used a glidewire to establish the correct surgical path to Murphy's kidneys through his urinary tract. Dr. Vereb then used a laser to break the kidney stones into smaller fragments for removal. Following an uneventful period of recovery, the surgery was deemed successful, and Murphy was released. During a postoperative evaluation two days later, it was reported that Murphy had been experiencing pain, but he was assured that such symptoms were normal. Murphy was prescribed pain medication and discharged. In June 2011, however, Murphy experienced painful urination and blood in his urine. An X-ray performed at that time revealed that a piece of the glidewire used during the ureteroscopy procedure remained lodged in Murphy's bladder. Upon seeking treatment from another urologist, a 5.6 centimeter glidewire fragment was removed from Murphy's bladder. Murphy subsequently sued both Dr. Vereb and Jackson Hospital alleging claims under the Alabama Medical Liability Act ("the AMLA"). The Alabama Supreme Court found Murphy presented no evidence -- in the form of expert testimony or otherwise -- that Jackson Hospital breached the applicable standard of care in any manner, Murphy failed to present evidence substantiating an essential element of his defective-equipment claim against Jackson Hospital, and therefore the jury's verdict on that claim was unsupported. Therefore, Jackson Hospital was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law in its favor. The judgment entered on the jury's verdict against Jackson Hospital was reversed. View "Jackson Hospital & Clinic, Inc. v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa, Inc. ("Nucor"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Zurich American Insurance Company ("Zurich") and Onin Staffing, LLC ("Onin"), on claims asserted by Nucor arising from an alleged breach of an indemnification agreement. Nucor operated a steel-manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa. Nucor had an internship program that offered part-time work to technical-school students, who, as part of the internship program, earned both academic credit and work experience relevant to their vocational training. In 2010, Nucor entered into a "Temporary Services Agency Agreement" ("the TSA Agreement") with Onin, a personnel-staffing agency, whereby Onin was to manage the employment of the technical-school students selected by Nucor for its internship program. Korey Ryan was a student at Shelton State Community College who applied for Nucor's internship program through Shelton State. In October 2014, Ryan was killed while working in the course of his duties at the Nucor facility. Ricky Edwards, a Nucor employee, directed Ryan to stand in a certain area in front of a water filter so that he would be clear of a moving crane. Edwards stated that he then turned his attention back to the load and began moving the crane. Ryan's right boot was struck by and became caught underneath the gearbox as the crane was moving. Ryan was dragged by the crane along the concrete floor through the narrow passageway between the crane and the warehouse wall, where he was crushed to death against a building support beam. Ryan's estate brought a wrongful-death action against Nucor; OSHA cited Nucor for a "serious" safety violation and fined it. Zurich issued a letter to Nucor and Onin in which it questioned whether the general-liability policy afforded coverage for the claims asserted in the wrongful-death action. Zurich noted that neither the indemnification provision in the TSA Agreement nor the additional-insured endorsement contained in the policy applied to in instances when the alleged "bodily injury" and/or "property damage" was caused by Nucor’s sole wrongful conduct. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the particular facts and circumstances underlying the wrongful- death action did not trigger the indemnification provision and the payment of an insurance benefit; rather, the facts and circumstances voided the indemnification provision altogether. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the insurance company. View "Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Company et al." on Justia Law

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Nicholas Jay appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of United Services Automobile Association ("USAA") on his claim against USAA seeking uninsured-motorist ("UM") benefits. Nicholas was injured in an automobile accident when riding as a passenger in Ryen Gorman's automobile. Gorman did not have automobile insurance. Nicholas received $50,000 in UM benefits through a policy he had with Nationwide Insurance Company. Thereafter, Nicholas commenced an action against USAA, seeking UM benefits pursuant to a USAA policy owned by his father-in-law, George Brewer, and under which Nicholas's wife, Michelle Jay, had automobile-insurance coverage. Because Nicholas was not a "covered person" under the USAA policy, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Jay v. United Services Automobile Association" on Justia Law

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Raymon Means, Jr., an employee of Sanders Lead Company, Inc., was burned in a workplace accident when molten lead splashed out of a kettle following an explosion. In an effort to recover outside Alabama's Workers' Compensation Act, Means sued, among others, several of his co- employees and an independent contractor, alleging that they had engaged in willful conduct that caused his injuries. While the Act generally barred an employee injured in a workplace accident from recovering damages from a co-employee who allegedly caused the accident, section 25-5-11 provided an exception when the accident was caused by the co-employee's willful conduct. Means sued the Sanders Lead defendants claiming that the exception applied to his case. The trial court entered a summary judgment against him, holding that his claims were all either barred by the statute of limitations or not supported by substantial evidence of willful conduct. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Means v. Glover, et al." on Justia Law

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Irvin Shell, as administrator of the estate of Annie Ruth Peterson, deceased ("the estate"), appealed separate summary judgments entered in favor of Montgomery-municipal jail employees Terri Butcher and Shayla Payne, respectively, on the basis of State-agent immunity. Annie Peterson was arrested for driving under the influence "of any substance" and transported to the municipal jail. Peterson was not actually under the influence of an intoxicating substance at the time of her arrest; rather, she was suffering from a hemorrhagic stroke. She remained in jail overnight; when jail officers went to retrieve Peterson from her cell, she was weak, “drowsy” and appeared ill. This information was relayed to a jail nurse; the nurse in turn contacted a doctor, who instructed jail staff to transport Peterson to the emergency room. After the bonding process was complete, Peterson was released to a family member who transported Peterson to a local hospital where she was diagnosed with having suffered a stroke; she died three days later on April 16, 2013. The estate sued Butcher and Payne in their individual capacities, alleging that they had been negligent and wanton in failing to obtain medical care for Peterson in a timely manner. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the estate did not demonstrate the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Butcher and Payne based on State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgments were affirmed. View "Shell v. Butcher" on Justia Law

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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