Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Dahlia McKinney, M.D., a defendant in the wrongful-death/medical negligence action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate an order compelling Dr. McKinney, ostensibly under Alabama's discovery rules, to alter the contents of a registered death certificate she prepared in connection with the death of Paydro White ("Paydro"). On December 31, 2013, Paydro sought medical treatment at the emergency department of Princeton Baptist Medical Center where he was diagnosed with possible pneumonia; he was discharged on that same date. The following afternoon, Paydro returned to the emergency department seeking follow-up care; he was formally admitted for treatment by the emergency physician on duty at that time. Later that evening, after Dr. McKinney began her evening shift, Paydro become unresponsive. Although he was initially successfully resuscitated, Paydro later died in the early morning hours of January 2, 2014. Dr. McKinney, who completed and signed Paydro's death certificate, identified the contributing causes of Paydro's death as "Pulseless electrical activity" due to "Acute Myocardial Infarction." Subsequent postmortem examinations and the autopsy of Paydro's body revealed that "the most likely cause of ... death [was] pulmonary Thromboembolism" -- a final diagnosis with which Dr. McKinney's later deposition testimony indicated she agreed. Dorothy White ("Dorothy"), Paydro's mother, was the personal representative of Paydro's estate. In that capacity, she sued numerous defendants allegedly connected with Paydro's medical treatment, including Dr. McKinney, largely arguing Paydro's death had been caused by the defendants' purported failure to timely diagnose and treat the pulmonary thromboembolism that ultimately caused Paydro's death. Dr. McKinney, who had provided no medical treatment to Paydro other than in connection with emergency resuscitation attempts, informally requested her voluntary dismissal as a defendant. In an email communication to Dr. McKinney's counsel, the estate's counsel indicated that a decision on that request would be aided by Dr. McKinney's voluntary amendment of the original cause of death indicated on Paydro's death certificate to identify his cause of death as a pulmonary thromboembolism. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the death certificate. Dr. McKinney therefore demonstrated a clear legal right to her requested relief. The trial court was ordered to vacate its order compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the cause of death on Paydro's death certificate. View "Ex parte Dahlia McKinney, M.D." on Justia Law

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Susan Runnels petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the trial court to enter a summary judgment in her favor of a spoliation-of-evidence claim asserted against her by Amir Fooladi, as father and next friend of Malia Fooladi ("Malia"), was barred by the defense of State-agent immunity. This case arose from an incident in which Malia, a four-year-old student in the prekindergarten program at Elsanor Elementary School, was injured while playing on playground equipment located at the school. Runnels was the principal of the school, operated by the Baldwin County Board of Education. In February 2016, an attorney retained by Malia's family sent a letter to the Board advising it of Malia's injuries and requesting that it preserve the glider. Runnels received a copy of a response letter sent by an attorney for the Board agreeing that the glider would be stored for an indefinite period and that the Board would provide advance notification before disposing of the glider. In response to those requests, Runnels asked the head custodian at the school to put the glider into storage on school grounds, and the head custodian moved the glider into the boiler room of the school. At some point between February 2016 and March 2018, a new custodial assistant at the school removed the glider from the boiler room and placed the glider in the trash. Fooladi alleged Runnels had been negligent and wanton: (1) in failing to ensure that the glider was appropriate for use on a school playground; (2) in failing to ensure that the glider would be safe for children to play on; (3) in failing to maintain the glider in proper working order; and (4) in failing to inspect the glider for defects. Fooladi further alleged that, by permitting the disposal of the glider, Runnels had spoliated evidence, and that spoliation severely impacted Fooladi's ability to prove the product-liability claims asserted against the manufacturer of the glider. Because Fooladi presented no arguments or evidence regarding Runnels's entitlement to State-agent immunity with respect to the spoliation-of-evidence claim, the Supreme Court concluded Fooladi failed to carry his burden of either raising a genuine issue of material fact as to Runnels's entitlement to State-agent immunity or showing that one of the exceptions to State-agent immunity applied in this case. Runnels' petition was granted and the trial court directed to enter an order granting her motion for summary judgment. View "Ex parte Susan Runnels." on Justia Law

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In May 2018, Howard Cole Burton ("Cole") and Nicholas Hood ("Nicholas") were Auburn University students enrolled in the field-camp course offered by the Department of Geosciences. As part of that geology course, students participated in a series of field exercises, including traveling to geologically significant sites in Alabama. One of the geologically significant sites in Alabama is known as "the Gadsden site," considered a "world-renowned example of a foreland-fold-and-thrust belt." Before the field-exercise portion of the course began, the faculty conducted an informational meeting to brief the students on safety and the specifics of what they could expect to encounter during the field exercises. At that meeting, the students were told to wear bright colors during field exercises for the purpose of staying visible to drivers when near a roadway and to hunters when in a wooded area. No safety cones, signs, or flags were placed along the section of the highway where the group was conducting the field exercise to alert oncoming traffic as to the presence of the group. The students began working on the field exercise approximately 12 to 15 feet from the edge of the highway. Jennifer Fulkerson was driving southbound on Highway 431 in an impaired state and under the influence of several prescription medications. Fulkerson's driver's side tires ran off the highway into the median, causing Fulkerson to react and overcorrect, ultimately striking Cole and Nicholas. Cole suffered severe injuries, and Nicholas died approximately one month after the accident from the injuries he had sustained. Caitlin Hood, as the personal representative of Nicholas's estate, and Cole individually sued Fulkerson, among others, asserting various claims arising out of the accident. At issue in this appeal was whether the University faculty were entitled to State-agent immunity from suit. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the University defendant were indeed entitled to such immunity, and affirmed summary judgment entered by the trial court in defendants' favor. View "Burton v. Hawkins, et al." on Justia Law

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Yulanda Haddan appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Norfolk Southern Railway Company and Norfolk Southern Corporation (collectively referred to as "Norfolk Southern"). She also sought review of a circuit court order striking certain deposition testimony. Haddan was injured when a pickup truck in which she was riding collided with a Norfolk Southern train at a railroad crossing. In its summary judgment, the circuit court concluded that Haddan could not recover against Norfolk Southern because, it determined, the driver of the truck failed to stop, look, and listen before entering the crossing and that failure was the sole proximate cause of Haddan's injury. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order striking the testimony, but reversed summary judgment and remand the matter to the circuit court for further proceedings. "Haddan presented substantial evidence ... from which a reasonable person could conclude that Norfolk Southern contributed to cause the collision resulting in Haddan's injuries, calling into question whether Cox's contributory negligence rose to the level of a superseding, intervening cause and creating a jury question as to whether Cox's conduct was that of a concurrent tortfeasor. The evidence of Norfolk Southern's failure to install lights and a gate at the crossing further raises doubt as to whether Cox's failure to stop, look, and listen was truly unforeseeable. Haddan has raised enough of a factual issue to preclude the entry of a summary judgment in favor of Norfolk Southern. Ultimately, 'the jury must decide whose actions are the proximate cause of the injury, or whether both [parties'] actions concurred and combined to proximately cause the injury.'" View "Haddan v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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After sustaining injuries in a one-vehicle accident, Terry and Jane Pruitt filed a complaint against several defendants, including AAA Interstate Transportation, LLC ("AAA"), in the Walker Circuit Court. The court dismissed their claims against AAA for lack of personal jurisdiction, and it certified that dismissal as a final judgment under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. The Pruitts appealed. Because the circuit court did not have either general or specific personal jurisdiction over AAA, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pruitt v. AAA Interstate Transportation, LLC" on Justia Law

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Janene Owens fell outside a hotel owned and operated by Ganga Hospitality, LLC ("Ganga") and sued, alleging negligence and wantonness. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of Ganga, and Owens appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court found Owens did not demonstrate the trial court erred in granting Ganga's motion for a summary judgment, which argued primarily that Ganga owed Owens no duty because the raised concrete platform was open and obvious. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Owens v. Ganga Hospitality LLC" on Justia Law

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Tiffina McQueen petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order directing her that her compulsory counterclaims would be tried separately from the claims raised by Yukita Johnson, the plaintiff below. In 2020, Johnson sued R&L Foods, LLC, petitioner, Michael McQueen ("McQueen"), Michael London, and Joe Fortner alleging McQueen threatened her over her work performance one day. Johnson phoned Fornter, a regional manager and reported McQueen; she asked Fortner if she could leave and go home. Fortner allegedly phoned McQueen over Johnson's allegations, but did not give Johnson permission to leave for the day. Notwithstanding the call, Johnson alleged McQueen still berated her, with petitioner joining in, retreving a handgun from a bag she was carrying, and gave the gun to her brother, McQueen. Johnson alleged McQueen fired several shots at her while inside the restaurant. As she fled, McQueen allegedly gave the gun to London, another employee, and London then fired several more shots at her from inside the restaurant. Johnson averred that customers of the restaurant and of a nearby business called law-enforcement officers of the incident. Johnson alleged that, after the shooting, she telephoned Fortner and told him about the incident and that Fortner telephoned the petitioner and then drove to the restaurant. Law-enforcement officers arrested McQueen and London. Johnson alleged that law-enforcement officers caught petitioner attempting to destroy video-surveillance footage of the incident and attempting to hide the handgun that was used in the incident. Petitioner was arrested for tampering with evidence. Johnson further alleged that, unbeknownst to the law-enforcement officers, Fortner had instructed petitioner to delete the video-surveillance footage of the incident. R&L Foods terminated Johnson's employment, but did not terminate petitioner's. Johnson asserted multiple claims arising from the altercation with petitioner and her brother. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that nothing in the facts of this case demonstrated that separate trials on Johnson's claims or in the counterclaim would further the convenience of the parties, would avoid prejudice to the parties, or would be "conducive to expedition and economy." Accordingly, the trial court exceeded its discretion when it ordered separate trials in this case. The petition was granted and the writ was issued. View "Ex parte Tiffina McQueen." on Justia Law

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Dr. Zenon Bednarski and his practice, Auburn Urgent Care, Inc. ("AUC"), appealed a circuit court judgment awarding Cortney Johnson ("Cortney"), as the administrator of the estate of Hope Johnson ("Hope"), deceased, $6.5 million. In October 2014, Hope and her mother visited Dr. Kerri Hensarling for evaluation and the prescription of a birth-control method. Hope's mother informed Dr. Hensarling that she had personally experienced multiple blood clots, and Dr. Hensarling ordered tests to determine if Hope was also at risk of experiencing blood clots. The test results revealed the presence of factor V Leiden, which contributes to the possibility of blood clotting. However, Dr. Hensarling failed to accurately determine the results of the test, and Hope and her mother were informed that the test results were negative for blood-clotting factors. Dr. Hensarling prescribed hormonal birth-control pills for Hope, the taking of which in combination with the presence of factor V Leiden would increase her risk of experiencing blood clots. Hope began taking the birth-control pills as prescribed, without knowledge of her increased risk for blood clots. In December 2014, Hope visited the AUC clinic, complaining of shortness of breath, chest pains, coughing, a headache, and a sore throat. Dr. Bednarski diagnosed Hope with bronchitis and prescribed an antibiotic medication. Hope returned to the AUC clinic a few days later, complaining of a much worsened condition, with sharp chest pains and extreme shortness of breath. A blood test was conducted, and Hope was diagnosed with leukocytosis and dyspnea and was prescribed an inhaler. The next morning, Hope died of a pulmonary blood clot. In May 2016, Hope's father, Cortney, as the administrator of her estate, filed suit, naming as defendants Dr. Hensarling and her practice, and Dr. Bendarski and AUC. Cortney settled with Dr. Hensarling; the Bednarski defendants unsuccessfully moved for a judgment as a matter of law at the close of Cortney's case-in-chief. The jury returned a general verdict in favor of Cortney against the Bednarski defendants. Finding that the Bednarski defendants failed to demonstrate they were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Bednarski v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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This case involved a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by defendants Shane Taylor ("Taylor") and Shane A. Taylor & Associates, P.C. ("the law firm"), asking the Alabama Supreme Court to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate its March 22, 2021, order denying their motion to strike the jury demand in the complaint filed against them by plaintiff Kimberly Hall-Smith, and to enter a new order granting their motion to strike. Taylor was a licensed attorney; Hall-Smith worked as paralegal for the law firm for a period. The law firm and Hall-Smith entered into an "Employee Confidentiality Agreement" ("the agreement"), which included a jury waiver provision should any litigation arise between them. Hall-Smith signed the agreement. Subsequently, the law firm terminated her employment. Hall-Smith then sued Taylor and the law firm alleging Taylor negligently, recklessly, and/or intentionally subjected her to, among other things, "harmful, unwanted, offensive and sexually charged physical contact." She asserted claims of negligence and/or wantonness and the tort of outrage/intentional infliction of emotional distress against Taylor and the law firm. Hall-Smith further asserted claims of assault, battery, and invasion of privacy against Taylor. Finally, the complaint included a demand for a trial by jury. Taylor and the law firm filed a motion to strike Hall-Smith's jury demand based on the jury-waiver provision included in the agreement. They asserted that Hall-Smith's claims clearly arose from her employment with the law firm and that their counterclaims against Hall-Smith "are related to both the subject matter of the [agreement] and [Hall-Smith's] employment." The Supreme Court agreed that Hall-Smith's claims against the law firm were related to her employment, and she waived her right to a jury trial as to those claims. Therefore, the trial court erred when it denied defendants' motion to strike the demand for a jury trial. The Court issued the writ and directed the trial court to enter an order granting defendants' motion. View "Ex parte Shane Taylor and Shane A. Taylor & Associates, P.C." on Justia Law

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The City of Gulf Shores ("the City") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Baldwin Circuit Court to dismiss tort claims brought against the City. The City contended the claims were barred by the recreational-use statutes found at 35-15-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. In June 2018, Sophia Paulinelli (minor) was injured while walking on a wooden boardwalk owned by the City. The boardwalk ran over beach property and allowed pedestrians to access the public beach. In addition to owning the boardwalk, the City owned the beach property on which the boardwalk sat. Sophia was walking on the boardwalk behind a man when the man stepped on a board, causing the board to spring up from the boardwalk. The dislodged board had a screw protruding from it, and the board and screw fell on Sophia's foot, impaling the screw in her big toe. In May 2019, Sophia's father, Ronald Paulinelli, sued the City and fictitiously named defendants claiming negligence and wantonness. The City moved for summary judgment, arguing it was entitled to immunity under the recreational-use statues. Two precedential cases were central to Ronald's argument the City was not entitled to immunity. The Supreme Court found nothing in the record that the City ever presented to the circuit court the arguments that it presented to the Supreme Court regarding the applicability of those decisions. Accordingly, the Court did not consider those arguments, and denied the City's petition. The Court expressed no opinion regarding the merits of Ronald's claims; rather the Court's decision was based on the City's failure to preserve key arguments before the circuit court. View "Ex parte City of Gulf Shores." on Justia Law