Pennsylvania: “According to police, Kyle Piper, then 17, lost control of his car on a wet Route 422 in Union Township and struck a steel pole.” His 15-year-old brother Stephen, a passenger, was catastrophically injured. “At the time of the accident, according to court documents, the family was insured through Erie Insurance Exchange and believed $200,000 in uninsured motorist benefits and another $100,000 in liability coverage was available for Stephen.” Several legal twists later, Erie has agreed to pay $18 million. [New Castle (Pa.) News]
And has now been awarded $18 million on the theory that although there was some warning signage, there should have been more. The 23-year-old driver was traveling “admittedly 15-20 miles per hour over the speed limit” when he encountered a rough patch of roadway at a resurfacing project. The claimant’s attorney, Gerald A. McHugh Jr., “a current nominee for U.S. district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, declined to comment on the case.” [Philadelphia, Legal Intelligencer]
Quest for deep pockets: the homeowners’ insurer had already thrown in its policy limits over an accident in which an 18 year old guest allowed to consume alcohol at a private home had injured himself in a car crash. Now an Ocean County, N.J. judge has ruled that the party host’s auto insurer can also be obliged to provide coverage under a general liability endorsement, ruling it irrelevant that the accident had nothing to do with the insured’s own cars. [New Jersey Law Journal]
The driverless car, it’s increasingly clear, is a technology with transformative potential, and among its key advantages would be its promise in reducing accident rates. Yet without attention to liability reform the progress could stall, according to Megan McArdle. “Even if the overall number of accidents drops, the number of accidents where the automaker is perceived to be at fault will approach 100 percent.” Would a massive, New Zealand-style effort to replace the whole tort system do better? [Bloomberg; more on New Zealand no-fault compensation here, here; the original 1967 Woodhouse report here]
According to a panel discussion hosted by the law firm of Edwards Wildman Palmer, sponsors of the Boston Marathon could face liability claims over the terrorist bombing of the event. One panelist cited the Station nightclub fire litigation in Rhode Island, in which plaintiffs lodged claims against upwards of 90 defendants, such as beer and radio-station sponsors of the concert, and won substantial settlements — $22 million from the parent company of the local radio station and $21 million from the beer defendants, for example. [Sheri Qualters, National Law Journal]
New Jersey: “Harding Pharmacy, others agreed to pay $4.1M to a man who swallowed stolen Xanax in 2007 and suffered serious injuries. A state court ruled Wednesday that the wholesale distributor, Kinray Inc., was not liable for injuries.” [James Kleimann, Ridgewood Patch, October, earlier here and here]
Because of a mounted dashboard camera, you can watch the footage of a Quincy, Ill. municipal transit bus on its seemingly uneventful ride until an oncoming car suddenly loses control and swerves directly into its path. [KHQA] If you do watch the footage, released by the plaintiff’s lawyer, see whether you would have predicted that the legal outcome of the crash would turn out to be “city pays $4 million to passenger in car that lost control.” (& welcomeReddit readers).
“The driver of a bus on which Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion was beaten to death in November stood guard while he was assaulted by fellow band members, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Orlando by Champion’s family.” The bus was parked in a hotel parking lot with the driver not aboard during the incident. The president of the sued company disputes the contentions, saying the driver “did not see any hazing aboard the bus on which Champion collapsed. ‘If she would have seen that, we definitely would have stopped it,’” he said. [Orlando Sentinel]
“This January, the justices stopped [attorney James] Wylder’s argument dead in its tracks once again, concluding that the McLean County Circuit Court should have dismissed his three negligence suits against Illinois Central Railroad. Wylder had argued that Illinois Central was responsible for the alleged asbestos-related injuries of workers at an asbestos plant because the asbestos had arrived there by rail.” [Chamber's Madison County Record, more; background on "asbestos conspiracy" line of Illinois cases, LNL]
“While lawyer Scott Marshall has pleaded guilty to a murder charge, his victim’s mother has filed an unusual wrongful-death suit against not only him but his parents and his 92-year-old grandmother.” [Texas Lawyer]
“The president of the Florence Park District says he’s disappointed in a system that allows a man riding a motorized bicycle on a winter night on a trail that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles to receive an insurance settlement. Half of the settlement came from a Florence bar because snow was pushed onto the trail when the bar parking lot was plowed.” [AP]
Lawyers for survivors of a calamitous stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair in August have sued a variety of defendants including country music duo Sugarland, producers, stagehands and others. [Hollywood Reporter]
In 2007, on Highway 101 north of Ventura, Jeremy White plowed his pickup truck into a vehicle parked along the roadside, killing its driver and paralyzing a California highway patrolman who was standing alongside. White “pleaded guilty in September 2008 to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and selling and transporting marijuana. He was sentenced to 15 years.” While he had an insurance policy, its limit was a paltry $15,000. So which deep pockets will be left responsible for paying the nearly $50 million a jury has awarded in damages? The answer, apparently: 1) White’s insurance company, despite the policy limit, due to the magic of “insurance bad faith” law; 2) Bert’s Mega Mall in Covina, whose employees, according to the plaintiffs in the case, “didn’t properly strap down two dirt bikes in the back of White’s truck, which caused a distraction and contributed to the crash.”
After the trial ended Tuesday, the mall’s lawyer, Terrence Cranert, said they would appeal.
He said there was significant evidence the jury didn’t receive, including a statement from White’s passenger who told the CHP that he and White had stopped to smoke marijuana after leaving the mall. Cranert said they weren’t able to find White’s passenger for the trial, but felt the information should have been allowed.
The judge, however, disagreed.
White’s passenger also told the CHP that he and White went into the back of the truck and opened a tool box to get the marijuana, according to Cranert. “They would have to unstrap the motorcycles,” Cranert said.
In 1992, Diana Maychick drove her mother’s Oldsmobile back to Washington Place in Greenwich Village, and got out. Her mother, the 74-year-old Stella Maychick, slid over from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat, readying herself to return to Yonkers. Maycheck, a shorter-than-average woman, suddenly took off in the car, which sped up, ran two stop signs, and tore through Washington Square Park, killing five and maiming several others.
Diana Maychick is now Diana Foote, a restaurant reviewer for a Palm Beach newspaper, and recently recounted the accident, claiming the recent Toyota troubles exonerated her mother.
Which I found fascinating, because I worked on that litigation—and the evidence that Maychick hit the gas instead of the brake was so strong that the plaintiffs’ lawyers abandoned the standard specious “mysterious gremlins caused the car to accelerate” theory and replaced it with a “General Motors knew that drivers were hitting the wrong pedal but didn’t do enough to warn them” theory. I took issue with Foote’s column in a letter to the newspaper.
As for the lawsuit itself, the judge excused everyone in the voir dire who expressed the remotest skepticism about plaintiffs’ theory, and GM settled shortly after the start of trial. One certainly marvels at the chutzpah of the theory of the case, given trial lawyers’ role in trying to persuade the public that driver error couldn’t possibly be to blame.
Decedent, Lloyd A. Wiseman, a vice president of a San Francisco bank, died of asphyxiation and burns in a hotel room in New York City. He was in that city on bank business, and his traveling expenses, including his hotel bills, were paid by the bank. A woman, not his wife but registered as such, was found unconscious in his room and died shortly thereafter. There was evidence that they had been drinking. Sometime between 4 and 5 in the morning of his death, Wiseman telephoned the hotel manager for help because of a fire in his room. After calling the fire department, the manager went to the room but was unable to open the door with his passkey. Firemen arrived shortly thereafter and broke into the room but were too late to save the occupants. It was the opinion of the assistant fire marshal that the fire was caused by careless smoking by either one or both of the occupants.
The California Supreme Court went on to hold that Wiseman’s widow and children were entitled to death benefits from his employer because his death “was proximately caused by the employment”—a remarkable definition of proximate cause. The Court reasoned that Wiseman might have died while entertaining a legitimate guest in the hotel room (at 4 in the morning?), so the fact that the death occurred in the course of nookie was irrelevant. That seems to me to prove too much: Wiseman might have died smoking in his bed at home, too, and he just happened to be in a hotel when his bad habits killed him. But this was part of Judge Traynor’s successful remaking of tort law in the 1950′s, and the death of proximate cause is a large part why we have the mess we have today. Wiseman v. Industrial Acc. Com. (1956) 46 Cal. 2d 570.
(You can tell that this is still over fifty years ago, though, because the widow didn’t sue the hotel or cigarette company.)
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