Articles Posted in Personal Injury Legal Theories

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Strange, unexpected acts happen every day. Thus, even when an individual or entity may have acted negligently, they are not always held responsible if an unusual or unexpected event occurs, thereby causing harm. In order to prove a negligence claim in this type of situation, a plaintiff must prove the elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. Additionally, in order to have a successful claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s negligent conduct caused the injuries at issue. Causation in a negligence claim requires a showing of both factual cause, or “but-for” cause, and proximate cause, or “legal” cause. Generally, this requires that the plaintiff show that the resulting injuries were foreseeable, rather than merely a remote result of the breach.

However, if another act occurs that intervenes after the defendant’s conduct or contributes to the harm, that act may amount to a “superseding” cause, which can cut off the defendant’s liability. In order to be a superseding cause, the subsequent act must break the chain of causation between the defendant’s negligent conduct and the resulting harm. That is, generally it must be something that could not be reasonably anticipated by the defendant.

The Effect of “Acts of God” on Causation in Negligence Claims

Generally, an individual is not expected to foresee unusual or extreme conditions, often referred to as “acts of God” in legal claims. If one of these conditions occurs, usually it will amount to a superseding cause because it was not foreseeable. This means that the defendant may not be liable for the resulting harm. However, whether an occurrence is an “act of God” or not depends heavily on the facts of the situation and what is expected under the circumstances. Also, it is often considered a fact for a jury to determine, which would require the case to go to trial in order to be decided.

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In a recent case, a woman was injured after she tripped on a large crack between two sidewalk slabs. The woman sued the city, arguing that the city was liable for failing to maintain the sidewalk in reasonable repair. She claimed that the sidewalk’s hazardous condition had been present for over 30 days before she fell. Indeed, under state law, this was a necessary element that needed to be proved in order for her case to be successful.

Under the state’s law, for a sidewalk defect case, a plaintiff was required to prove that the city knew or should have known about the existence of the defect at least 30 days before the injury. If there was an obvious defect at least 30 days before the injury, the city was presumed to have knowledge of the defect. The city took the woman’s deposition, and during her deposition she stated that she did not know how for how long the condition had been there. The woman submitted three photographs taken about 30 days after the accident, which were the only relevant evidence she had of the condition. The city moved to have the case dismissed. That state’s supreme court found that the evidence of the photograph could not show that the defect existed at least 30 days before the woman’s accident. Thus, the case had to be dismissed.

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is a decision made by a court based on the available evidence. The judgment considers whether there is sufficient contradictory evidence that amounts to a dispute of an issue of material fact. If there is a sufficient dispute, the case should be sent to trial so that a judge or jury can resolve the factual dispute based on the evidence presented at trial. The purpose of summary judgment is not to make a decision on a factual dispute but instead to decide whether a factual dispute exists.

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In a recent case decided by a state appellate court, a 10-year-old boy was killed while riding as a passenger on a speedboat. While driving on a lake, the driver of the speedboat drove the speedboat between two warning buoys and hit a submerged pipe. The mother had taken her four children fishing on a lake with her boyfriend when the accident occurred. The boy’s mother settled claims against the boat’s driver and others, and then she sued the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The mother argued that the state was liable because it marked the pipe with buoys that were too far apart, the pipe’s placement violated state laws, the pipe was concealed, and the pipe posed a danger to individuals.

The state’s supreme court dismissed the case, finding that the public duty doctrine barred the mother’s claim. The court explained that the public duty doctrine means that if a duty is owed to the public in general, there can be no liability to an individual who is a member of the public. However, there may be a duty to an individual if a special relationship existed. In effect, the public duty rule acts to protect municipalities from liability arising from failing to adequately enforce laws and regulations.

Here, the court found that there was no special relationship between those on the lake that day and the Department of Natural Resources. Members of the public can use the lake at no cost and come and go as they please. There was a duty owed to the general public but not to individuals, and there was no special relationship between the state and recreational boaters. Thus, the claim was barred by the public duty doctrine.

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A 23-month-old boy tragically drowned in a pond after he climbed out of his crib and walked outside in the middle of the night. After the accident, the boy’s parents filed a product liability case against the company that manufactured the doorknob cover they had installed on their front door. The doorknob cover was a safety measure to prevent children from opening doors. The boy’s parents used the doorknob cover on the front door of their home to stop him from opening the door. However, the company argued that the doorknob cover was not defective or unreasonably dangerous if it were used properly.

At trial, evidence showed that after the boy began climbing out of his crib, to help ensure their son’s safety, the couple began using a chain lock on the front door in addition to the doorknob cover. On the night of the accident, the boy’s mother locked the tab lock on the doorknob but forgot to latch the chain lock. The boy was discovered the next morning, and the doorknob cover was on the floor in two pieces. Investigation notes with social services stated that the parents knew the boy was able to defeat the doorknob cover, which was why they installed the chain lock. However, the father denied making that statement.

The parents argued that evidence of their knowledge of the boy’s ability to defeat the doorknob cover should be excluded because it was irrelevant, and at most it was only a contributing cause but not the sole cause of the accident. They also argued that it was overly prejudicial. Despite their objections, the evidence was allowed at trial.

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In a recent case in front of a state appellate court, a woman died while in the care of a nursing home, and the woman’s daughter filed a wrongful death claim against the nursing home, alleging medical malpractice. In response, the nursing home filed a motion for summary judgment to have the case dismissed because the woman failed to designate an expert witness.

The woman then designated two expert witnesses. Subsequently, the court granted summary judgment because although the woman designated the experts, she failed to produce sworn expert testimony. The woman then filed sworn expert testimony by filing affidavits from the expert witnesses and requested a reconsideration of the judgment. The court denied the reconsideration motion. Under that state’s rules, sworn expert testimony is required in medical malpractice cases, and it is necessary to survive summary judgment.

The woman appealed and argued that the dismissal of the case was too harsh a sanction for a “discovery violation.” However, the court stated that the court did not impose sanctions because of her failure to follow discovery rules. Instead, the court dismissed the case because of a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant, and she had failed to provide sufficient evidence to survive a motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the state’s supreme court agreed with the decision and affirmed the dismissal.

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Parties often believe that a case is over when the trial ends. However, there are a number of avenues for relief for parties who are not satisfied with the result of their trial. Those avenues may result in granting a new trial altogether or even reversing the jury’s decision.

In a recent case, a man was in a car accident and filed a complaint against the defendant, alleging that he suffered injuries to his neck, back, and knee as a result, for which he sought compensation. The defendant admitted that he was at fault for the accident but argued that the accident was not the cause of the man’s knee injuries nor did it require him to undergo knee surgery. The defendant argued that the man had preexisting conditions that were the actual cause of his knee injuries.

The case proceeded to trial, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him $9,620 in past medical expenses for neck and back injuries. However, the plaintiff moved for a new trial because he argued that his knee injuries were also caused by the accident, and a reasonable jury could not have found otherwise based on the evidence presented. The judge granted the plaintiff his request for a new trial, but that state’s supreme court reversed the decision. It held that the jury’s verdict was supported by evidence that his knee injuries were preexisting and that the court should not have granted a new trial. Accordingly, the jury’s verdict was reinstated.

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Following the court’s rules and orders can be as important as the case itself. In a recent case, a claim was dismissed after the man and his attorney failed to attend a scheduled hearing. The man filed a complaint against a defendant after he sustained injuries during a fight at the defendant’s nightclub. However, in the complaint, the man stated the wrong date of the incident, and the incorrect date signified that the three-year statute of limitations had expired. Thus, the defendant moved to dismiss the claim based on the statute of limitations. A motion hearing was scheduled, but the plaintiff failed to appear at the hearing, despite having been properly informed of the hearing according to court rules. As a result, the case was dismissed.

Soon afterward, the plaintiff argued that the dismissal should be vacated because his attorney did not receive notice of the hearing. The court denied the motion to vacate the dismissal, and the plaintiff appealed. That state’s supreme court held that there were no extenuating circumstances that excused the plaintiff’s failure to attend the hearing, and the dismissal was upheld.

Illinois Court Rules and Consequences

When litigating a medical malpractice or personal injury case in Illinois, all parties and attorneys are required to comply with the Illinois Court Rules. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 219 details the consequences for refusing to comply with the rules or a judge’s order.

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Employers can be held liable for their employees’ actions under the theory of respondeat superior. This theory generally holds that an employer is vicariously liable for the acts of its employees. In addition, employers can also be held liable for negligent hiring, retention, or entrustment involving their employees.

Negligent Hiring

A claim based on negligent hiring is based on the fact that an employer negligently hired or retained an employee. A lawsuit resulting from negligent hiring can arise if an employer hires an employee whom the employer knew or should have known was not fit for the position. That is, the employee was placed in a job that would likely have posed a danger to others. An employer must take reasonable efforts to investigate a potential employee. This depends on the facts and circumstances of each case, but an example might be an employer that hires an individual who has been convicted several times of violent crimes for an armed security guard position.

A negligent hiring claim may be successful even if the act committed by the employee is outside the scope of the employment, which is one aspect that distinguishes it from a general negligence claim. This is because the focus is on whether or not the hiring or retention of the employee was negligent. However, there still must be a causal connection between the employer’s negligence and the injuries that occurred.

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Everyone knows that you should wear a seat belt. But can a victim be held liable for failing to wear a seat belt? In a recent case, a state supreme court allowed a defendant to argue that a plaintiff was partially at fault for her own injuries for failing to use a seat belt.

In that case, the woman was in a car accident when she was sitting in the backseat of someone’s car. The driver of the car ran into a parked excavator, and the woman sued the driver and his employer. The defendants argued that the woman was at fault, since she was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. At the time the case was argued, Arkansas law generally did not allow evidence of a failure to wear a seat belt to be used in civil cases. However, the court found that this law actually regulated a court procedure, which could only be regulated by the courts. Therefore, the law was unconstitutional and could not be enforced, and the seat belt defense could be raised.

Seat Belt Defenses in Illinois

In Illinois, a defendant normally cannot raise the issue of a party’s failure to wear a seat belt as a defense. In 1985, the Illinois Supreme Court held that evidence of damages caused by a party’s failure to use a seat belt was not admissible with respect to either the question of liability or the question of damages. At that time, there was no law requiring people to wear seat belts, so the plaintiff did not have a duty to wear one.

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People of all ages can cause accidents—even children. But in cases in which the parents did nothing wrong, when can a child be held liable for his or her actions? One state’s supreme court addressed this issue in a recent case.

While a woman was babysitting a four-year-old, the boy threw a rubber dolphin toy at her, hitting her in the eye. Since the woman had previous eye injuries, the woman lost her sight in that eye as a result of the incident. The woman brought suit against the boy’s parents for negligent supervision, which was quickly denied. In addition, the woman sued the boy individually for his own negligence.

That state’s supreme court held that the four-year-old could not be held liable for negligence. The court decided that children under the age of five30 could never be held liable for negligence. The court reasoned that children under five years old have a limited ability to appreciate how their actions could result in harm and that they have a limited ability to control impulses. Accordingly, the court stated that there was very little possibility that a child under five years old would be deserving of moral criticism or capable of being deterred by the law. In addition, requiring a child to testify about his or her ability to understand consequences and impulse control is especially difficult when a trial would likely occur years after the actual incident.

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