Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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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

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Steven Smith, as conservator of the estate of B.J. (minor), appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Elizabeth Alexander, Amanda Buchanan, and Michael Key on Smith's claims alleging violations of policies promulgated by the State Department of Human Resources ("the State DHR"), negligence, wantonness, and the tort of outrage. In May 2015, Key was employed by the Cullman County DHR as a foster-care supervisor, responsible for supervising Cullman County DHR caseworkers. Key reported to Buchanan, who oversaw the Child Family Services Program, the Child Protective Services Program, and the Foster Care Program for the Cullman County DHR. Buchanan in turn reported to Alexander, the director of the Cullman County DHR. B.J. was placed in the custody of the Cullman County DHR when he was three years old after having suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect at the hands of family members. In 2002, the trial court awarded the Cullman County DHR legal guardianship and permanent custody of B.J. While in the custody of the Cullman County DHR, B.J. was placed in a number of foster homes, group homes, residential facilities, hospitals, and psychiatric institutions. In July 2014, B.J. was placed by the Cullman County DHR at the Altapointe Group Home. While there, B.J. underwent an assessment, which revealed he had regularly exhibited violent outbursts and physically aggressive behavior toward others; he had a history of depression, suicide and delusional thinking; and engaged in impulsive and delinquent behavior. B.J. would ultimately be arrested for such behavior towards others. B.J. had personal funds with which he could post bail, but the decision was made he should have remained in jail pending an arrangement for further mental health counseling. Smith argued defendants' decisions leaving B.J. incarcerated did not follow departmental policies of least-restrictive-placement-possible, and as such, caused B.J. irreparable harm. The Alabama Supreme Court found that each crucial decision made by the defendants -- i.e., the decisions not to place B.J. at the Gateway facility and not to post B.J.'s bond before his court date -- were made with B.J.'s best interests in mind after consideration of all the relevant recommendations and factors. Accordingly, Smith failed to provide substantial evidence demonstrating that the defendants acted willfully in dealing with B.J. and that, therefore, they were not entitled to the protection of State-agent immunity. View "Smith v. Alexander, et al." on Justia Law

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John Cooper, the director of the Alabama Department of Transportation ("ALDOT"), sought a writ of mandamus to direct the Morgan Circuit Court to dismiss an action commenced against him by William Hulsey and Traci Bullard. Hulsey was injured when he lost control of his vehicle during a winter weather event. Hulsey and Bullard, his common-law wife, sued Cooper, individually, for damages: Hulsey based on personal injury, Bullard based on loss of consortium. Hulsey and Bullard alleged that ALDOT employees made the road surface slick by applying an improper mixture of anti-icing brine and diesel fuel to it, then aggravated the slickness by flushing the road with water, then failed to warn drivers and close the road. Hulsey and Bullard also alleged that Cooper failed to supervise and train ALDOT employees and to ensure that they followed ALDOT policies. The Alabama Supreme Court found that because Hulsey's and Bullard's claims were based on Cooper's official duties as director, he was entitled to a dismissal based on State immunity. THe Court thus granted the director's petition. View "Ex parte John Cooper" on Justia Law

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Ben E. Keith Company, Inc. ("BEK"), appealed a circuit court order entering summary judgment in favor of Lyndon Southern Insurance Company ("Lyndon") on Lyndon's complaint for a declaratory judgment. On December 14, 2018, Felicia Edwards and Robert Allen Marak were involved in a motor-vehicle accident in Dadeville. Felicia was driving a 2009 Toyota Camry automobile that was owned by Annette Edwards and insured by Lyndon. Marak was driving a tractor-trailer that was owned by BEK. As a result of the accident, BEK incurred damage to its tractor-trailer. BEK sued Felicia and Annette claiming negligence and wantonness against both Felicia and Annette and a claim of negligent entrustment against Annette. BEK later amended the complaint to add a negligent-maintenance claim against Annette. Lyndon filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment against Felicia, Annette, and BEK, asserting the policy it issued to Annette excluded coverage for "[a]ny operator of a vehicle who is not listed as a driver on the Policy Applications, Declarations, and/or added by Endorsement who is under the age of twenty-five and is either a Family Member or resides in the same household as the Named Insured" and for "[a]n operator of a vehicle who is an unlicensed driver or whose driving privileges have been terminated or suspended." BEK argued the trial court erroneously granted Lyndon's motion for a summary judgment because Lyndon did not produce substantial admissible evidence to establish that Felicia was a noncovered person under the policy that insured Annette's vehicle at the time of the accident. Specifically, it contended Lyndon did not produce substantial admissible evidence to establish that Felicia did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the accident or to establish Felicia's age and residence at the time of the accident. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concurred Lyndon did not produce substantial evidence to establish that Felicia did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the accident and did not produce substantial evidence to establish that Felicia was under the age of 25 and resided in Annette's household at the time of the accident. Therefore, Lyndon did not shift the burden of proof to BEK. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting Lyndon's motion for a summary judgment. Judgment was therefore reversed. View "Ben E. Keith Company, Inc. v. Lyndon Southern Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Amy Williamson petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in her favor based on State-agent immunity. Twenty-year-old Re.W. was a student in the CrossingPoints program, a collaborative program between the University of Alabama, the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, and the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education that served college-aged students with mental disabilities. Williamson was a teacher in the program and an employee of the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, and Amy Burnett was a "para-educator" with the program. In 2015, Williamson and Burnett transported Re.W. and three other students to various businesses to submit job applications. While Williamson and Burnett took two students into a Lowe's home-improvement store to submit applications, Re.W. and a male student stayed in the CrossingPoints van. Re.W. stated that, during the short time that the others were inside the store, the male student touched her on her breast and between her legs. In 2019, Re.W., by and through her parents and next friends, Ro.W. and V.W., sued Williamson on counts of negligent, wanton, and/or willful failure to perform ministerial acts and the tort of outrage. Williamson filed an answer to the complaint denying the material allegations and asserted multiple affirmative defenses. Williamson later moved for summary judgment, asserting, among other things, that Re.W.'s claims were barred by the doctrine of State-agent immunity. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that Williamson established that, at the time of the incident, she was performing a discretionary function, and because the Court concluded Re.W. did not present any evidence to establish that an exception to State-agent immunity applied, Williamson established that she was entitled to State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the petition for the writ of mandamus was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its order denying Williamson's motion for a summary judgment, and directed to enter a summary judgment for Williamson. View "Ex parte Amy Williamson." on Justia Law

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At approximately 10:15 p.m., on November 16, 2015, Michael Cannon and Zachary Lucas were involved in a motor-vehicle accident on an unlit portion of Interstate 22 in Alabama when Cannon's vehicle collided with Lucas and the motorcycle he had been riding. In 2017, Lucas filed a complaint against Cannon alleging negligence and wantonness/recklessness and seeking damages for the various injuries he allegedly had sustained as a result of that accident. Lucas proceeded to trial solely on his negligence claim. After a four-day trial in 2019, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Lucas and awarded him $18 million in compensatory damages. Cannon filed a motion for a judgment as a matter of law, for a new trial, or for a remittitur, asserting, among other things, that the trial court had erred by refusing to permit Cannon to present evidence of Lucas's 2018 conviction for presenting a forged drug prescription. After Lucas responded, the trial court conducted a hearing. Thereafter, the motion was denied by operation of law. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred in granting Lucas's motion in limine to exclude evidence regarding his 2018 conviction for presenting a forged drug prescription. Because the trial court erred in ruling that Cannon could not present such evidence at trial, the Court concluded it also erred in denying Cannon's motion for a new trial. View "Cannon v. Lucas" on Justia Law