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April 2018

Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad

By | Cases, For Attorneys, Personal Injury, Train Accident | No Comments

What Happened: Mrs. Palsgraf was standing on a railroad platform after she bought a ticket
from Long Island Rail Road. Two men ran to catch a train that was pulling out from the
platform. The first man jumped aboard easily but the second man, who was carrying a package,
failed to jump aboard the railroad car the first time. A train employee, who had held the door
open for the second man reached forward to help him in, and a guard on the platform pushed him
from behind at the same time. In this act, the package the man was carrying was dislodged and
fell upon the rails. The package contained fireworks, but there was nothing from its appearance
to give Long Island Rail Road notice of its contents. The fireworks exploded when they fell and
the shock of the explosion caused some scales at the other end of the platform to fall.
Unfortunately, the scales struck Mrs. Palsgraf, causing her to be injured. Ms. Palsgraf initiated a
lawsuit against Long Island Rail Road company to receive compensation for her injuries. Ms.
Palsgraf was awarded damages in the trial court and the Defendant appealed.

Question Before the Court: Does a Defendant owe a duty of care to Plaintiff who is outside the
reasonably foreseeable zone of danger?

Court Ruling: The majority held that negligence is based on the foreseeability of the harm
between the parties and overturned Ms. Palsgraf’s victory in the lower court.

Personal Injury

By | Articles, Personal Injury | No Comments

Every month, millions of us pay our car insurance premiums. We also pay our homeowner’s insurance premiums, and we pay premiums out of our paychecks for health insurance, life insurance, and more. We pay for insurance to protect us and our loved ones from the unthinkable: an accident, severe injuries, a fire that burns our house down, a tornado, and even death. More than that, we pay so that our families and neighbors won’t be left with the bill from these events.

It’s part of being a responsible, decent human being. Every single one of us has made a mistake in the past, and when that mistake results in a car wreck that injures someone else, we have an obligation to that person to make sure they’re taken care of when the medical bills come. We also have an obligation to our families and those who depend on us, because if we don’t have insurance, we could be facing lawsuits that could threaten everything we’ve worked hard for: our homes, our savings, and even our future earnings.

There are at multiple parties in any accident, such as the responsible party, the victim, and the insurance companies. The responsible party and the victim met their responsibility to each other by purchasing insurance coverage, but what happens when the insurance company doesn’t want to meet its responsibility? What happens when a victim has $15,000 in medical bills, but the insurance company only wants to pay out $5,000, even though the insurance policy insures up to $25,000 in damages?

Every day across this country, that scenario plays out. Millions of victims face off with an insurer who looks at them as an individual without the power or the resources to force the insurer to meet its obligations. You’re injured, you’re out of work, and you’re in a hurry to pay for your bills. Insurance companies know this, and they’ll use that to their advantage.

Even though you paid your premiums, and even though the person responsible for your injuries paid his premiums, his insurance company wants to step over a dollar to pick up a dime at your expense. The insurance company wants to get something for nothing. They want to take our hard earned money that we spend on insurance premiums and deny us the coverage we’ve paid for when we’re sick or injured.

Insurance companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year portraying accident victims as greedy, opportunistic individuals looking to get rich quick. The insurance companies say that lawsuits aren’t about recovering money for medical bills; instead, lawsuits are about making a profit on an accident. If that was the case, we’d have an epidemic of people in this country deliberately getting hurt. We don’t.

We have plenty of people who commit insurance fraud by pretending to be injured, but what we don’t have are people deliberately getting into accidents in order to suffer actual catastrophic injuries. It’s common sense: you can’t pay anyone to get severely burned, suffer paralysis, or risk a lifelong complication from a catastrophic injury.

The history of personal injury and the facts underlying the rise of personal injury as a distinct area of law completely contradict what insurance companies portray as reality.

The History of Personal Injury

Personal injury hasn’t always been a distinct area of the law. For the vast majority of human history, injuries were covered under the principle of retribution, or what you know as “an eye for an eye.” If you injured another person, you were to be repaid in the same manner. Over time, this evolved into more civilized forms of legal redress, with the rise of both statutes or written laws and common law or judge made law.

There were two major events that led to the rise of legal remedies for injuries to individuals: one was the Industrial Revolution, and the other was the rise of the automobile. With the Industrial Revolution, workplace injuries were becoming more common, which led governments to pass laws that allowed for workers to sue their employers for their injuries.

Over time, the government began to view injury lawsuits as a potential threat or hindrance to commerce, and Worker’s Compensation was worked out as a solution. In order to limit lawsuits by workers, a system of insurance coverage was worked out to compensate workers for on the job injuries. This kept such cases out of the courts, and limited the potential for large verdicts that could financially cripple an employer and result in the loss of jobs.

By the 20th century, two landmark cases, Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Company and Donoghue v. Stevenson, established proximate cause and negligence. Proximate cause established certain injuries as a natural consequence of certain acts. Negligence established the idea that a duty of reasonable care was present between a producer and a consumer, as well as any neighbor to the consumer.

What does it mean to be a “neighbor” to a consumer? Before Donoghue, only the tortfeasor-the person who commits a tort that injures someone-and the immediate party could be part of a negligence claim. That is, if you purchased a beer that was poisoned due to the negligence of its manufacturer, and you gave your neighbor that beer at a party and they were poisoned, your neighbor could not sue because they were not a party to the original transaction. They didn’t buy the beer, you did. The tortfeasor didn’t owe them a duty of care, he only owed the purchaser of his product a duty of care.

Donoghue extended the concept of negligence beyond immediate parties who purchased a product to end users who consumed the product. It established that the duty of reasonable care to ensure the safety of a product extended beyond the producer and the purchaser to anyone who consumed the product.

These two cases revolutionized what would later become a distinct field of law: personal injury. By the 1960s, with the rise of the automobile as a mode of personal transportation and the corresponding increase in car accidents, many attorneys and firms were suing to recover damages for injuries suffered in car accidents. However, the damage awards were small.

Then came Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader, a book that detailed the American auto industry’s deliberate decisions to design their cars without regard for passenger safety. The most famous chapter of the book dealt with the Chevrolet Corvair, which was a rear-engine vehicle with a swing-axle suspension design. General Motors knew that the car was unstable; one of their suspension mechanics, George Caramagna, fought internally to include an anti-sway bar on the Corvair. He was overruled because General Motors wanted to save money.

As a result, General Motors manufactured the Corvair for four years between 1960 and 1964 without the anti-roll bar, and Corvairs were prone to roll over with two or more passengers.

If you’ve ever wondered why your car has an automatic transmission organized by P R N D L, it’s because of Ralph Nader’s book. Early automatic transmissions were organized by a P N D L R, which led to drivers moving the shift lever down to reverse rather than low gear by accident. In addition, your car door has a “Nader bolt” which prevents the car door from flying open in a crash. From 1966 onward, every car sold in the United States has been equipped with a Nader bolt.

This is because manufacturers, like insurance companies, often decide to step over dollars to pick up dimes at the risk of your safety and well-being. After all, what can you do? You’re just an individual. Big corporations have a massive advantage in terms of resources to fight off lawsuits.

They also have huge resources to control the narrative in the media when it comes to lawsuits. That’s why you hear all about the ridiculously high punitive damages corporations face in personal injury or class action lawsuits. What you don’t hear about is the deliberate decisions corporations make to cut corners by risking the lives of consumers.

The most infamous example of this is the 1971 Ford Pinto. Ford knew that the Pinto’s design was flawed: in a rear-end collision, the fuel tank would rupture and cause fires, but Ford’s accountants wrote a memo detailing that it would be cheaper to settle wrongful death lawsuits resulting from the defect than it would be to fix the design flaw. How much would it have cost Ford to make the Pinto safe? $11 per car.

Ford chose to put a car on the road that would burn people alive in an accident, as opposed to spending a mere $11 per car to fix the design flaw that would kill 900 people. Ford wound up paying out millions of dollars in wrongful death settlements for its decision to save $11 per car. 900 families lost their loved ones as a result of Ford’s willful decision to manufacture a car that would burn its occupants alive in a crash.

After the Corvair and the Pinto, it was no wonder that the first television advertisement for a personal injury law firm premiered in 1979.

As time went by, the efforts of insurance companies and big corporations to re-victimize people who suffered horrible injuries grew over time. In addition to dealing with their injuries, victims had to contend with insurers and businesses portraying them as greedy for simply wanting their medical bills paid. At no point did the insurance companies and big businesses ever acknowledge that one of the reasons personal injury awards and settlements were so expensive was a deliberate decision on the part of insurance companies and businesses to avoid responsibility and limit risk.

Lying About the Victim: How McDonald’s and State Farm Added Insult to Injury

February 27, 1992 began for Stella Liebeck like a normal day begins for many of us: waiting in a drive through lane for our coffee. Liebeck’s car didn’t have cup holders, so her grandson parked the car in order for her to add cream and sugar. When Liebeck placed the coffee cup between her knees and and pulled the lid off of the cup, the coffee spilled into her lap. It scalded her thighs, buttocks, and groins, resulting in third degree burns. Liebeck was in the hospital for eight days, and she went from 103 lbs to 83 lbs, and she was partially disabled.

Originally, Liebeck tried to get $20,000 to cover her $10,500 in past medical expenses, her $2,500 in anticipated future medical expenses, and the $5,000 in lost income her daughter suffered by missing eight weeks of work to take care of her mother. McDonald’s offered just $800, even though it was undisputed that Liebeck had at least $10,500 in medical expenses.

Liebeck got a lawyer, who filed suit and offered to settle with McDonald’s for $90,000. Morgan then offered a settlement of $300,000 after a mediator recommended a $225,000 settlement. McDonald’s refused all of these attempts to settle. At trial, Liebeck’s attorney showed internal documents from McDonald’s that proved McDonald’s knew of 700 other incidents where its coffee had burned people. McDonald’s had settled claims for over $500,000 in the past.

Despite the fact that McDonald’s knew its required coffee temperature of 180-190 degrees was unsafe, and that it had resulted in 700 other burn incidents, McDonald’s continued its unsafe practices. Inn fact, McDonald’s quality control manager Christopher Appleton said that 700 injuries weren’t enough of a reason to change the practice.

The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages, but reduced this by 20% because Liebeck was found to be 20% at fault. The jury also awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages, which the judge reduced to $480,000. Eventually, the case settled out of court.

McDonald’s could have settled the entire case for $20,000. Instead, they gambled that they’d be able to push Liebeck around and give her a mere $800 or nothing at all for her $10,500 in past medical expenses and her $2,500 in future medical expenses. McDonald’s stepped over a dollar to pick up a dime, and lost big.

After the case, McDonald’s and advocates of tort reform blamed the victim. Even though McDonald’s knew keeping its coffee at scalding temperatures was dangerous, and had burned 700 other people, McDonald’s kept risking injuries to its own customers. Those who defended McDonald’s called Liebeck greedy, and held her up as a pariah. They misrepresented the facts by acting as if Liebeck had put the cup between her legs while she was driving the car.

Stella Liebeck wasn’t greedy: she only asked for $20,000 to cover her medical bills and the time her daughter missed from work. McDonald’s got greedy, and in their greed they lost a lot more than $20,000.

Sadly, this kind of behavior isn’t limited to businesses. Insurers get greedy, too. Everyone reading this article has seen the State Farm commercials, and you know the jingle: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” What happens when an insurance company isn’t a good neighbor?

In 1981, Curtis Campbell and his wife Inez Preece Campbell were driving along a highway in Cache County, Utah, when he decided to pass six vehicles. When he moved into the other lane, he drove directly into the path of Todd Ospital, who swerved to avoid Campbell and hit Robert G. Slusher. Ospital was killed, and Slusher was permanently disabled.

Witnesses and investigators pinned the fault on Campbell, and his insurance company State Farm decided not to settle with the Slusher and Ospital, who were willing to settle for the policy limit of just $50,000. State Farm told Campbell that he had no liability for the accident, and that there was no need for Campbell to get his own attorney.

The case went to trial, and the jury found Campbell 100% at fault. They awarded damages of $185,849. State Farm then refused to pay the verdict in excess of the $50,000 policy limit, and it refused to post a bond for Campbell to appeal the verdict.

In 1984, the Campbells settled with Slusher and Ospital’s estate, reaching an agreement whereby the Campbells would pursue a bad-faith claim against State Farm for the failure to pay the veredict. Slusher and Ospital’s attorneys agreed to represent the Campbell’s in the bad faith suit; additionally, the parties agreed not to seek to satisfy the original judgment against the Campbells. Slusher and Ospital’s estate would receive 90% of any verdict against State Farm.

Five years later, in 1989, the Utah Supreme Court denied Campbell’s appeal of the original verdict. State Farm paid the entire judgment, but the Campbells filed suit against state farm for bad faith, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

State Farm lost the trial, and the jury awarded $145 million in punitive damages to the Campbells. The Utah Supreme Court upheld the verdict, and State Farm appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the verdict and remanded the case for reconsideration to the Utah Supreme Court. The Utah Supreme court then reinstated the original $145 million punitive verdict on remand, and State Farm wound up paying $145 million to resolve a case that could have been settled for $50,000.

There was no greed on the part of the Campbells, the Ospitals, or Robert Slusher. Curtis Campbell and his wife wanted State Farm to settle the case using the insurance policy they had paid for, and the Ospitals and Robert Slusher only wanted $25,000 apiece. The Campbell’s insurance policy had a limit of $50,000 which would have covered the $50,000 settlement, but State Farm had a different number in mind: zero.

That’s what State Farm wanted to pay: zero dollars for the death of Todd Ospital and the disability of Robert Slusher. State Farm wasn’t just willing to burn Todd Ospital’s family and Robert Slusher; they also tried to rip off their own policyholders, Curtis and Inez Campbell. By stepping over $50,000, State Farm suffered a $145 million loss due to its own greed and stubbornness. State Farm was willing to let its own policyholder lose all of his assets to satisfy the original $185,849 verdict, even though he had paid his insurance premiums.

Why They Do It

Today, big business and insurance companies alike insist that personal injury settlements are out of control, that the costs of lawsuits are driving businesses under and causing their employees to do their jobs. What these businesses and insurance companies have in common is simple: they want it all for nothing. They want your insurance premiums, but they don’t want to cover you when you have an accident.

They want your business, but they don’t want to treat you like a valued customer by making sure that their products are safe.

Why do they do it? Because they can, and because it works. If you’re the typical accident victim, you probably feel guilty for going to an attorney. You think lawsuits are for people who are trying to get rich by cashing in on their injuries. Nothing is farther from the truth.

Stella Liebeck would give her settlement back in a second if it meant that she never had to experience 190 degree coffee scalding her vagina. Todd Ospital’s family would trade their share of $145 million if it meant bringing Todd back. Robert Slusher would give up his share of the money if it meant living a normal life, rather than being permanently disabled.

These people suffered once from their injuries and the deaths of their loved one, and the companies that were at fault caused them to suffer again and again by lying and misrepresenting them as greedy, selfish people. Insurance companies and businesses don’t do this just to be cruel to the victims of their negligence and deliberate acts; they do it to intimidate you when you’re injured. They do it to deter you from seeking what you’re entitled to when you’re injured, or when your loved one dies as a result of their wrongdoing.

You’ve likely heard the words tort reform, but you never knew what it was. Tort reform is the principle that a company can offer $800 to a woman who has $10,500 in injuries, and refuse to take responsibility for the deliberate decisions they made that led to those injuries. Tort reform is the idea that an insurance company can take your money as a policyholder and hang you out to dry when you’re in an accident by leaving you on the hook for a $185,000 verdict.

When you’ve been injured or your family member has been killed through the negligence or wrongdoing of a company, and the insurance company refuses to deal with you fairly, they’re stepping over dollars to pick up dimes at your expense. You shouldn’t feel ashamed to stand up for yourself. You shouldn’t be conned into insulting the victims of McDonald’s and State Farm by defaming them as greedy. After all, you could be next.

Most of all, you should understand that by supporting tort reform, you’re just giving a bailout to businesses that routinely make deliberate decisions to choose dollars over safety and human life. You’re doing so at a risk to your own health and safety, because if insurance companies and big corporations can put a price on your life that will enable them to make a profit off of your injury or death, they will.

We know this, because they already have. That’s why personal injury lawyers will never run out of work: the greed of insurance companies and big businesses, and their disregard for the safety and well-being of others.

The Personal Injury Education Center of Utah wishes you a safe and happy life, free from injury or wrongful death, but if you ever do have to face such a horrific outcome, don’t be ashamed to stand up for yourself. It’s not greedy to expect the people responsible for your injury or the death of a loved one to pay for their actions. When they refuse to deal fairly with you, they put themselves at risk of a big court verdict. That’s not your fault; it’s theirs.

PIP – Personal Injury Protection

By | Articles, Car Accidents, Casino Accidents, Personal Injury, Spine and Back Injuries, Train Accident, Trucking Accident | No Comments

The average person lives their life without ever going to court for anything more serious than a traffic ticket. Our lives are filled with ordinary day to day events, such as work, errands like grocery shopping, school, ball games, family cookouts and dinners, and the like. Most of us will never know what it’s like to be in a serious car accident, and we’ll never see a friend or family member go through the aftermath of a catastrophic personal injury.

Most car accidents are minor, and the injuries consist of some bumps, bruises, and muscle soreness. For these minor accidents, Utah law mandates Personal Injury Protection, or PIP. What’s PIP? It’s $3,000 in insurance coverage for the average driver, and it provides a predictable means of resolving most injuries in a car accident.

No one wants a lawsuit, and PIP is a quick, easy way of covering injury expenses for those involved in an accident. Even if you’re at fault in a wreck, you can still get coverage for your injuries from the PIP on your insurance policy. The reason PIP is the law is to avoid lawsuits by making it easy to pay for medical expenses from minor injuries. In fact, before you can sue for an accident injury in Utah, you have to first exhaust the $3,000 of PIP on your insurance policy.

This covers both the at-fault party and the victim in a car accident, because each party can pay for their minor injuries via their PIP, coverage thereby keeping the courts free of minor lawsuits with under $3,000 in medical expenses. This is good news for you if you’re at fault in an auto accident, because the other party can simply go to their insurer to get their minor injuries covered on their insurance policy. It’s also good news for you, because as the at fault party, you’ve got no grounds to recover for your injuries from the other party. Thanks to PIP, you can to your insurer and get those minor medical issues taken care of, as long as they’re $3,000 or less.

At the very least, you’ll save $3,000 in overall medical expenses, even if you happen to be at fault for the accident.

You won’t have to wait six months to three years, either. That’s how long it can take a personal injury lawsuit to settle or be resolved in a trial. Regardless of whether or not you’re the person to blame, or the victim, PIP covers you no matter what for those bumps and bruises and trips to the chiropractor’s office. It ensures that you won’t be choosing between buying food for those family cookouts and paying for your minor medical expenses after an accident.

The Utah Educational Center for Personal Injury hopes you never have even a minor injury, but if you do, your PIP will be there for you.

ATV Accident

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Utah is an outdoor state. With national landmarks, ample parks, and the sixth largest amount of boatable water per capita, Utah is a state where there are many opportunities to enjoy ATVs, boats, and RVs. In the wintertime, Utah Parks and Wildlife prepares snowmobile trails, and people as young eight years of age can operate a snowmobile. Just as cars and trucks come with risks, ATVs, boats, and other OHVs do as well.

That’s why it’s important to be safe. Utah has strict laws about drinking and boating, and any boat with a 50 horsepower or higher motor requires $25,000 in liability coverage, along with $50,000 for bodily injury and death, and $15,000 in property damage coverage. What’s important to note about this is that there is no Personal Injury Protection (PIP), which means that the only way to recover damages is through a legal claim. This includes motorcycles, so if you’re injured in a motorcycle accident, the rules will be different from those governing a car accident.

Utah does not require insurance coverage for ATVs if they are operated on highways designated for Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use; however, if an accident takes place on land owned or leased by the owner of the ATV, their homeowner’s insurance may cover injuries or property damage, depending on the language of the policy.

As with any accident, your first priority should be getting medical attention for any injuries. Even if you don’t have visible injuries, get checked out by a medical professional to be sure. The sooner you identify an injury, the easier it will be to get treatment, and the less dispute there will be later on as to whether or not your injuries are the result of an accident with an ATV.

Your second priority should be documenting any and all information related to the accident. Was the operator of the ATV or the boat drinking? Were they in compliance with boating regulations on right of way, or were they operating an ATV on a street not designated for OHV use? Who were the witnesses to the accident?

Contacting the appropriate law enforcement agencies can be critical to documenting the facts surrounding an accident, not to mention making recovering compensation for any medical expenses or property damage.

If you are injured, you’ve got four years to file a claim from the date of the accident. As with any other accident, Utah is a comparative fault state. This means that the jury will subtract the percentage of your own fault or negligence from your overall award. That’s all the more reason to exercise safe driving habits and follow the laws of the trail or the water in operating a boat or an OHV.

The Personal Injury Education Center of Utah hopes you enjoy everything Utah has to offer, on and off road, but remember to be safe.

Wrongful Death

By | Articles, Car Accidents, Casino Accidents, Construction Accidents, Train Accident, Trucking Accident, Wrongful Death | No Comments

At some point in your life, you’ve likely known someone who was injured in an accident, either at work or in traffic.  Accidents are a fact of life, and unfortunately, sometimes accidents result in the death of an individual.  When this happens, Utah law provides for the compensation of dependents and family members.  However, most people have no idea where to begin when their loved one dies as the result of the negligence or wrongdoing of another party.

Not a single person reading this sits around contemplating the wrongful death of a family member or a close personal friend.  Tragedies are unthinkable outcomes, and wrongful death is not an everyday occurrence in our lives.  We live our lives among our friends and loved ones, secure in their company and comforted by their continued presence in our day to day lives.

A wrongful death is the absolute worst case scenario for many of us, but if and when it happens to your spouse, your child, or someone you know, a crash course in the law is usually what ensues. At a time when you’re grieving the loss of someone close to you, the law is the last thing on your mind.  That’s why you need to contact an attorney.

An attorney is your advocate during the most unimaginably heartbreaking time.  They’re your guide, and when you’ve lost a loved one, you need to focus on healing and recovery.  Very often, the person you lose can be a breadwinner, a provider, a mother, a father, an adult child taking care of elderly parents or a disabled spouse or child.  The loss isn’t just emotional; it’s financial.  Life insurance and the estates a deceased individual leaves behind are often not enough to ensure the future of their surviving relatives.

In the event that a child dies as a result of negligence or wrongdoing, parents and siblings are left with the knowledge that no amount of money can bring their child back to life.  However, civil damages are intended to both compensate a loss that cannot be quantified, and deter the wrongful conduct that resulted in the loss of a child.

Second, Utah law limits wrongful death claims to the heirs of the deceased victim, or a personal representative of the deceased. Who are the heirs under Utah law?

1. A surviving spouse, such as a husband or a wife.
2. A surviving adult child.
3. A surviving parent or parents either natural or adoptive.
4. The surviving stepchildren, if they are under 18 at the time of death and dependents of the deceased person.
5. Any other blood relatives listed in Utah’s inheritance laws.

The presumption under Utah law is that one of the heirs will take on the role of personal representative for the deceased; however, if the deceased died with a will or an estate plan, they may have named a personal representative who can also file a wrongful death claim. The personal representative has to file in civil court. This is the person who will contact and hire an attorney to deal with those responsible for the wrongful death and their insurance company.

Third, you have to file within two years of the deceased’s death.  If the negligent party is a government entity, you only have one year to file.

Finally, you can recover damages under Utah’s wrongful death law. These damages can include the following:

1) Compensatory damages for:
-Medical expenses related to the injury causing the death.
-Lost wages, such as future wages and benefits lost.  This means that you should be able to  recover the wages the person would have made if they were still alive to work.
-Pain and suffering resulting from the death.
-The loss of companionship, guidance, and care.  Very often, the deceased will be a spouse or  parent whose loss cannot be quantified in mere lost wages.  Children rely on their parents for  guidance and care, and spouses rely on their other half for companionship and care as well.

2) Punitive damages: these damages are intended to send a message, and that message is that the negligent or intentional behavior that resulted in a wrongful death should not be tolerated or repeated. Punitive damages are awarded to punish intentional or negligent behavior, and they are also awarded to discourage that behavior in the future.

We all hope that we never have to deal with the aftermath of wrongful death, but if and when we do face that horrific possibility, knowledge is the key.  The Personal Injury Education Center of Utah is a resource to give you the knowledge you need when the unthinkable occurs.

Martin v. Herzog

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What Happened: Martin was driving his buggy during the night and was killed in a collision between his buggy and Herzog’s car. It was dark when the accident occurred. Martin was driving without lights and Herzog did not keep to the right of the center of the highway. Martin alleged that Herzog was driving on the wrong side of the road. Herzog claimed that Martin was contributorily negligent for driving without headlights as required under the law.

Question Before the Court: Does a jury have the power to relax the duty that one traveler on the highway owes under a statute to another on the same highway? Is negligent conduct actionable by itself unless there is a showing that such conduct was the cause of the injuries incurred?

Court Ruling: The unexcused violation of a statutory duty is negligence per se and a jury does not have the power to relax the duty that one traveler on the highway owes under a statute to another on the same highway. Negligent conduct is not actionable by itself unless there is a showing that such conduct was the cause of the injuries incurred.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell

By | Car Accidents, Cases, For Attorneys, Personal Injury, Spine and Back Injuries, Wrongful Death | No Comments

What Happened: In 1981, Campbell caused an accident in which Todd Ospital was killed and Robert G. Slusher was left permanently disabled, a fact confirmed by both witnesses to the accident and investigators. Notwithstanding the evidence against Campbell, Campbell’s insurance State Farm decided to contest liability and decline the settlement offers from both Slusher and Ospital’s estate. Both parties were offering to settle for $25,000 each, or $50,000 total, which was Campbell’s policy limit. State Farm assured the Campbells that “their assets were safe, that they had no liability for the accident, and that State Farm would represent their interests, and that they did not need to procure separate counsel. However, a jury rendered a verdict that Campbell was 100 percent liable for the accident and awarded a judgment of $185,849. State Farm refused to pay the excess amount, nor would it post a supersedeas bond to allow Campbell to appeal the verdict; Campbell obtained his own counsel to appeal the verdict. While the appeal was pending, the Campbells reached a settlement with Slusher and Ospital’s estate, whereby those parties agreed not to seek satisfaction of the judgment against the Campbells, and the Campbells would pursue a bad-faith action against State Farm. The attorneys for Slusher and Ospital’s estate would represent the Campbells in the bad-faith suit and would make all major decisions regarding it. No settlement would take effect without the approval of Slusher and Ospital’s estate, and they would receive 90 percent of any verdict against State Farm.The Utah Supreme Court denied Campbell’s appeal concerning the underlying car accident and State Farm then paid the entire amount of the judgment including the excess amount.

Nevertheless, the Campbells filed suit against State Farm alleging bad faith, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Campbells won a $145 million verdict against State Farm for their bad faith actions in not protecting their insureds, Resulting in over $116 million dollars to the Estates of Ospital and Slusher and $29 million to the Campbells.

Question Before the Court: There were two questions before the court; (1) was Campbell liable for the original car accident, and (2) did State Farm act in bad faith by not paying the verdict against the Campbells or settling the case for a reasonable amount?

Court Ruling: Campbell was liable in the underlying accident and State Farm acted in bad faith by not paying the original verdict, not settling the case for a reasonable amount, and not paying for the supersedeas bond; essentially, State Farm violated their duty owed to their insureds the Campbells.

Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants

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What Happened: Stella Liebeck ordered a cup of coffee from the drive-through window of a local McDonald’s restaurant. With the car parked and Liebeck in the passenger seat Liebeck attempted to add cream and sugar to her coffee. Liebeck placed the coffee cup between her knees and pulled the far side of the lid toward her to remove it. In the process, she spilled the entire cup of coffee on her lap. Liebeck was wearing cotton sweatpants that absorbed the coffee and held it against her skin, scalding her thighs, buttocks, and groin. Liebeck was taken to the hospital, where it was determined that she had suffered third-degree burns on six percent of her skin and lesser burns over sixteen percent. She remained in the hospital for eight days while she underwent skin grafting. During this period, Liebeck lost 20 pounds, reducing her to 83 pounds. After the hospital stay, Liebeck needed care for 3 weeks, which was provided by her daughter. Liebeck suffered permanent disfigurement after the incident and was partially disabled for two years.

Question Before the Court: Did McDonald’s breach the standard of care by serving its coffee too hot?

Court Ruling: A twelve-person jury reached a verdict applying the principles of comparative negligence. The jury found that McDonald’s was 80% responsible for the incident and Liebeck was 20% at fault. Though there was a warning on the coffee cup, the jury decided that the warning was neither large enough nor sufficient. They awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages, which was then reduced by 20% to $160,000. In addition, they awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages. The jurors apparently arrived at this figure from Morgan’s suggestion to penalize McDonald’s for one or two days’ worth of coffee revenues, which were about $1.35 million per day. The judge reduced punitive damages to $480,000, three times the compensatory amount, for a total of $640,000. The decision was appealed by both McDonald’s and Liebeck in December 1994, but the parties settled out of court for an undisclosed amount less than $600,000.

United States v. Carroll Towing Co.

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What Happened: The case was the result of the sinking of the barge Anna C that took place on January 4, 1944 in New York Harbor. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company chartered the Anna C from Conners Marine Company, which was loaded with flour owned by the United States. Before the accident, the Anna C was moored at Pier 52 on the North River along with several other barges. The barges at Pier 52 were tied together by mooring lines and one barge at Pier 52 was tied to another set of barges at the adjacent Public Pier. On the day of the accident the tug Carroll was sent to remove a barge from the Public Pier. In the process of removing the barge, the line between the barges at Pier 52 and the barges at the Public Pier was removed. After the removal of the line, the barges at Pier 52 broke free. This resulted in the sinking of Anna C. The United States, lessee of the Anna C, sued Carroll Towing Co., owner of the Carroll in an indemnity action.

Question Before the Court: Was Defendant negligent in failing to have a Bargee aboard the ship to prevent against such injury?

Court Ruling: If the burden of the preventative the injury is less than the Cost of Injury multiplied by the likelihood of the injury occurring and the injury occurs then the standard of care required would be breached.

Garratt v. Dailey

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What Happened: Garrat alleged that Dailey, a five year-old boy, moved a chair away just as she was about to sit down in it, causing her to fall and to be injured.

Question Before the Court: Intent necessary to establish Battery.

Court Ruling: The Court held that battery could only be found if it is shown that the boy knew with “substantial certainty” that by moving the chair Garratt would attempt to sit in the chair’s original position. That is, the accused must be substantially certain that his action would cause the offensive contact. The absence of an intent to injure or play a joke is not sufficient to absolve the accused of liability. It is sufficient for the plaintiff only to prove that the accused had sufficient knowledge to foresee the contact with “substantial certainty”.