For some time trial lawyers have been promoting the theory that when runaway cars smash into convenience stores and other retail locations, it is the stores’ fault for not installing protective bollards. This theory has now taken a big leap forward in a case in which a Western Massachusetts jury has told Cumberland Farms to pay $32 million over a crash in which a motorist who’d had a stroke careened off a road and into a Chicopee store. [Springfield Republican; more at Fair Warning, which as is its wont takes the plaintiff’s-bar side]
Deborah La Fetra at Pacific Legal on a case that arose against a shopping mall after a runaway car smashed through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall into a medical clinic:
[On May 8,] the New Mexico Supreme Court decided in Rodriguez v. Del Sol Shopping Center that when a court decides whether a property owner has a duty to protect people from harm on the premises, the court must never consider whether the harm was foreseeable. PLF has long argued in premises liability cases that foreseeability cannot be dispositive, because the court must also consider the public policy considerations of imposing a duty to protect. The court’s holding that foreseeability must never be even a factor, however, sets it apart from every other court in the nation, to the detriment of New Mexican property owners and businesses….
This approach means that, as a practical matter, New Mexico courts can never dismiss a case on the grounds that the defendant owed no duty to the plaintiff. …This is a shocking departure from standard tort doctrine that squarely places upon courts the responsibility to determine the nature and extent of tort duties. All property owners and businesses in the state should be on notice that any accident, no matter how bizarre or unlikely, that occurs on their premises will almost certainly go to a jury – or settle.
Whole post here.
Seeking help with an auto accident claim, Robert Friedrich was in a meeting with an attorney at a personal injury law firm in 2003 when a chair collapsed under him. He won a $2.2 million jury verdict against the law firm of Fetterman & Associates and a retailer that sold the chair, but an appeals court directed a verdict against him, finding a lack of needed causation. Now the Florida Supreme Court has reinstated the verdict [Legal Profession Prof, ABA Journal, earlier]
Perhaps the most remarkable passage in the ABA Journal’s coverage:
An expert for Friedrich said an inspection should have revealed the “weak joint” in the chair blamed for the collapse and said it should be standard procedure for businesses to test chairs every six months, the court recounts. An expert for the law firm said the only test for defects in chairs is to sit in them, and no other test would have revealed the defect that caused the Friedrich accident. …
A dissenting judge would have upheld the directed verdict against Friedrich. Even if the jury agreed that businesses should inspect chairs every six months, the dissenting judge said, there was insufficient evidence to prove that an inspection would have revealed the defect in the chair at issue.
Commenter DKJA at the ABA Journal writes:
So every business in Florida now has to “inspect” every piece of furniture every six months in perpetuity?
Maybe we should just replace all furniture with beanbag chairs. Although I’m sure someone would figure out how to injure themselves on one of them as well.
Kent and Surrey, England: “Police have told residents to stop putting wire mesh on their garden shed windows – because they could be sued if a burglar is injured.” [Telegraph]
“State Senator Jim Alesi fell off a ladder and broke his leg at someone else’s unfinished home three years ago – and now he’s blaming the homeowners for his injury. Alesi is also suing the home builder, Louis DiRisio.” Alesi has said he was checking out the development and didn’t realize the house in question, which he entered through an unlocked basement door, had already been sold to owners. The homeowners’ right to sue Alesi for trespassing has now expired under the statute of limitations, and they may be rethinking their decision not to press charges at the time. [WHAM, WHEC, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle] Update: he drops suit.
Wal-Mart stores in many parts of the country are famous for letting motor-home travelers park overnight in their lots for free. One wonders whether that policy will last: a Florida couple is now suing the retailer over an incident in the parking lot of its Cedar City, Utah store, in which the family shot and killed a man who intruded in their parked home. They say they have suffered emotional distress and medical problems and that “store officials knew the man was loitering in the lot” but failed to act. [Salt Lake Tribune via Consumerist, where commenters haven’t been conspicuously sympathetic to the plaintiffs]
A bill in the California legislature held out hope for encouraging wider adoption of the lifesaving devices, but couldn’t make it past the Litigation Lobby. [John Frith, California Civil Justice Blog]
A woman’s lawsuit charges that the death of her 77-year-old husband was the “direct and proximate result” of his slip and fall 21 months earlier on an “unnatural accumulation of ice” in front of a Trader Joe’s supermarket. A newspaper article last year describes the man as having fought a “courageous battle with cancer” before his death. [Josh Stockinger, Batavia (Ill.) Daily Herald]