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Last month, an appellate court in Connecticut issued a written opinion in a car accident case brought by an injured high school student and his parents against the school administrators at the teen’s school. In the case, Strycharz v. Cady, the court was tasked with determining whether the school’s administrative staff was protected from legal liability under governmental immunity. Ultimately, the court determined that most of the administrative staff was immune from legal liability, but a valid question existed regarding whether the assistant principals were protected.

Parking LotThe Facts of the Case

Strycharz was a student at Bacon Academy, a public school with bus service throughout the local community. On the day in question, Strycharz rode the bus to school but upon exiting the bus did not proceed directly into the building. Instead, he and a friend decided to go across the street to smoke a cigarette before beginning the school day. On his way across the street, Strycharz was struck by another student’s car. He suffered a serious injury as a result and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the school administrators, and several other town officials.

Before the case reached trial, the school administrators asked the court to dismiss the case against them, based on the fact that they were government officials carrying out a discretionary duty. Specifically, they claimed that it was up to them to determine how to protect students coming to and from school, and since the duty was discretionary, government immunity attached, making them immune from legal liability. The court noted that all of the administrators except for the assistant principals had a discretionary duty and dismissed the case against those defendants. Regarding the assistant principals, the court held that there was a ministerial duty to ensure the safe travel of students to and from the school bus into the school, but the duty was fulfilled by the assistant principals’ actions.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court applied the attorney work product privilege to protect the undisclosed findings of a plaintiff’s unused expert. In the case, Malashock v. Jamison, the court determined that a plaintiff does not waive the work product privilege when they initially designate an expert as one who will testify during the trial but then later determine not to have the expert testify at trial.

ATVThe Attorney Work Product Privilege

Most people have heard about the attorney-client privilege that acts to protect information conveyed to an attorney by his or her client in almost all cases. The attorney work product privilege is similar, in that it prevents an opposing party from obtaining certain information. However, unlike the attorney-client privilege, the work product privilege protects any information prepared in anticipation by a party’s attorney. For example, a memorandum written from an attorney to their client expressing concerns about weaknesses in the client’s case would almost certainly be protected.

A Plaintiff Discloses an Expert and Then Changes His Mind

In the case, Malashock v. Jamison, the plaintiff was injured while riding a utility vehicle that the defendant had sold him. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, claiming that the vehicle was unreasonably dangerous and not properly serviced. To help prove his case, the plaintiff designated four expert witnesses. One of the witnesses was to explain to the jury the forces involved in the accident and how the vehicle’s frame performed under the stresses of the accident. No specific information was released about the expert’s proposed testimony.

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Most people who have been to an amusement park, ski resort, or concert venue have seen the small print printed on the back of their ticket. Far fewer people have actually taken the time to read and understand what the text says. However, this language is very important because it contains crucial information about the rights the ticket holder has should something go wrong while they are participating in the activity. And regardless of whether the ticket holder knows it, in most cases, proceeding to engage in the activity can actually act as an acceptance of the terms contained in this small print.

ContractOne important term that businesses often slip into the small print is an arbitration clause. An arbitration clause is a contractual term between two parties that acts as an agreement not to use the court system should something go wrong. Rather than use the court system, the injured or aggrieved party agrees to submit their claim to an arbitration panel that will decide whether the claim has merit and if so, how much the injured party is entitled to receive.

Arbitration has many benefits for businesses, including lowering the cost of defending a claim and keeping the results of all claims confidential. Additionally, since the business determines which arbitration company hears the claims against it, the results tend to favor businesses over those who are seeking relief. Generally speaking, arbitration should be avoided by personal injury plaintiffs, if possible. However, since companies often slip arbitration clauses into their contracts, sometimes victims do not have a choice.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court issued a written opinion discussing whether a casino has a duty to protect passengers as they board a free shuttle operated by the casino. In the case, Huang v. The Bicycle Casino, the appellate court determined that the lower court erred when it held, as a matter of law, that the defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care to prevent other passengers from trampling her as she was boarding the bus. Although the court did not reach a final decision on whether the casino was acting as a common carrier, the language used by the court indicated its willingness to consider the issue in future cases presenting similar facts.

Crowded BusThe Facts of the Case:  A Woman Is Trampled as She Boards a Casino Shuttle

Huang was planning on visiting the defendant casino. To get there, she planned to take a free shuttle offered by the casino. However, she was not alone in her desire to use the free shuttle. In fact, there were between 40 and 70 other people waiting for the same shuttle, which only had 40 seats.

The casino did not do anything to ensure the orderly boarding of the shuttle, and the shuttle stop was described as chaotic by those present. As the shuttle approached, the crowd ran toward it with many people trying to board at the same time. As Huang approached the shuttle doors, the crowd surged and caused her to slip. As a result of her fall, she sustained a serious injury. She subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the casino.

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Earlier last month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who slipped and fell in the defendant’s grocery store. In the case, Youngblood v. All American Quality Foods, the court ultimately determined that there was insufficient evidence showing that the defendant grocery store knew of the dangerous condition causing Youngblood’s fall. The court also held that, even if the defendant did have actual knowledge of the hazardous condition, store employees took reasonable care in tending to it.

Wet FloorThe Facts

Youngblood was shopping at the defendant grocery store when she slipped in a puddle of water in the beverage aisle. There was no evidence indicating where the puddle of water came from, and Youngblood testified that she did not see the puddle before stepping in it. At some point around the same time as Youngblood’s fall, another customer told the store’s management that there was a spill in the beverage aisle. It was not established whether this was before or after Youngblood’s fall. However, by the time a store employee arrived at the spill with cleaning supplies, Youngblood had already fallen.

As a result of her fall, Youngblood sustained injuries and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the store. The store argued that there was no proof that it had knowledge of the spill prior to Youngblood’s fall, and even if the other customer did alert management to the spill moments before the fall, the employees acted in a reasonable manner in tending to the spill.

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Earlier this month, a Georgia trucking company was ordered to remove its entire fleet of commercial vehicles from operation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). According to one industry news source covering the recently imposed sanctions, the order came after a fatal accident that occurred back in August of this year.

Gas TankerEvidently, one of the trucking company’s drivers was speeding around a curve when he lost control of his rig. The truck crashed into a home, where it caught fire and then exploded. One woman inside the home was killed as a result of the explosion, and several other people were injured as a result. In addition, four nearby homes sustained notable damage.

The FMCSA further justified its decision ordering the company to cease operation by pointing to the fact that the past 10 times the company’s trucks have been pulled over for random inspection, the inspector determined that the truck was unsafe to operate and either cited the driver or required that the truck remain off the road. Over the course of the random inspections, it was determined that the trucking company committed the following violations:

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Whenever an accident is caused by a driver who is “on the clock,” there is always the potential issue of employer liability under a legal doctrine called respondeat superior. Respondeat superior is an old Latin term that translates to “let the master answer,” and it has been applied by courts across the country to hold employers responsible for the negligent actions of their employees in some circumstances.

Damaged Red CarOf course, not every accident involving an employee can be attributed to their employer. Several criteria must be met in order for the doctrine to apply. Generally speaking, the accident must have occurred while the employee was performing a work-related task. Also, the doctrine will only apply to true employees rather than independent contractors. A recent case illustrates the difficulty in determining whether conduct is within an employee’s scope of employment.

Fountain v. Karim:  An Employee Causes an Accident in the Employer’s Vehicle

Karim worked for the federal government. Since he was assigned to a remote location, he was provided with a vehicle to use while he was at the remote office. However, Karim would generally use his own vehicle to get to and from the remote office. Karim was prohibited from using the work vehicle for personal use unless he had his supervisor’s written permission. However, several times in the past, Karim had obtained verbal authorization from his supervisor before using the car and then obtained formal written consent upon his safe return.

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Last month, an appellate court in Illinois issued a written opinion in a wrongful death by medical malpractice case that reversed the lower court’s ruling that the “discovery rule” did not apply to wrongful death cases. In the case, Moon v. Rhode, the court held that the discovery rule does apply, but since the lower court failed to make certain factual findings, the case had to be remanded so that the court could make those findings.

HourglassThe “Discovery Rule” in Medical Malpractice Cases

All medical malpractice cases must be brought within a certain amount of time. This requirement is outlined in what is known as the statute of limitations. In Georgia, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is two years from the date of the incident. However, the discovery rule allows plaintiffs to file a case past the expiration of the statute of limitations if they did not discover the facts giving rise to the case until a later date. Notwithstanding the application of the discovery rule, Georgia plaintiffs must bring their medical malpractice case within the five-year statute of repose. The statute of repose acts as the ultimate limit, meaning that no case can be filed after the five-year period has passed.

Moon v. Rhode:  The Facts

In the Moon case, the plaintiffs were the surviving family members of an elderly woman who passed away while being treated by several doctors. The plaintiff filed a complaint against several of the doctors within the statute of limitations, and that case proceeded as normal. However, during the plaintiff’s investigation, it was discovered that another doctor, the defendant, may have also been partially responsible for their loved one’s death. However, this discovery was made after the statute of limitations had expired.

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A tragic crash earlier this month has taken the life of one University of Georgia student and left two others seriously injured after a driver crossed into oncoming traffic and struck three bicyclists who were approaching head-on.  According to a local news report discussing the crash, the 31-year-old driver of the SUV was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs and charged with a first-degree felony homicide charge as a result of the crash.  Although the driver initially blamed the crash on her trying to use a cell phone while driving, a statement she made to police during their investigation resulted in the DUI charge being pursued.

One Way SignDistracted or Intoxicated Driver Crosses into Oncoming Traffic and Strikes Three Bicyclists.

According to the news report, the crash occurred when the defendant, who was driving an SUV, became distracted and crossed into oncoming traffic on an Athens road near the UGA campus.  The three bicyclists were riding together in the opposite direction in a single-file line and were struck by the defendant’s vehicle.  One of the bikers was hit directly head-on by the SUV and died at the scene, while the other two suffered glancing blows from the vehicle that resulted in their crashing and suffering serious injuries.  According to the article, the crash is still under investigation, although the defendant has been arrested and charged with DUI as well as a homicide charge for her role in the fatal crash.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a product liability case brought by the owner of a Mazda Miata against the car’s manufacturer. In the case, Holiday Motor Corporation v. Walters, the plaintiff alleged that the manufacturer breached an implied warranty of merchantability by not creating a soft-top convertible that was capable of withstanding a rollover crash. Ultimately, the court rejected the plaintiff’s claims and imposed judgment for the defendant car manufacturer, based on the fact that the manufacturer did not have a duty to create a soft-top convertible capable of withstanding a rollover crash.

MiataThe Facts of the Case

Walters was driver her 1995 Mazda Miata on a two-lane road when she noticed a large object fall off the truck in front of her. In an attempt to avoid the object, Walters steered the car to the left, across the oncoming lane of traffic, and off the side of the road. As the car left the roadway, it traveled up a slight incline that caused the vehicle to roll over. Eventually, the car came to a stop with the car upside down leaning partially against a tree.

A good Samaritan stopped to render assistance to Walter, who was trapped inside. He testified at trial that when he arrived on the scene, the car was lying flat on the ground upside down. Only the rear of the car was slightly elevated. Walters sustained serious back and neck injuries as a result of the accident, and she filed a product liability case against Mazda. She argued that the soft-top convertible should have been able to maintain its integrity during the accident.

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