No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (NY)In Bridget Bardio v. Rego II Borrower, LLC, 2023 NY Slip Op 00405 (2d Dept. 2023), plaintiff sustained trip and fall injuries when she fell on the stairs of a mall. Plaintiff and her husband had just left a restaurant and argued in front of an elevator heading to the garage. Plaintiff admittedly was intoxicated at the time. The mall security guard came over, de-escalated the argument, and the husband left. The security guard then helped the plaintiff to the garage entrance so she could go to her parked car. He suggested they take the elevator down to the garage and she declined, so they proceeded to take the stairs. As they approached the stairs, plaintiff tripped and fell down the steps. Defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that they were not negligent and owed no specific duty to plaintiff when she fell down the stairs. The trial court denied defendant’s motion and the Second Department affirmed that decision. “Generally speaking, one does not owe a duty to come to the aid of a person in peril, whether the peril is medical or otherwise” (Miglino v Bally Total Fitness of Greater NY, Inc., 92 A.D.3d 148, 159). However, “‘one who assumes a duty to act, even though gratuitously, may thereby become subject to the duty of acting carefully'” (Mirza v Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 2 A.D.3d 808, 809, quoting Nallan v Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 50 N.Y.2d 507, 522; see Parvi v City of Kingston, 41 NY2d 553). “[T]he question is whether defendant’s conduct placed plaintiff in a more vulnerable position than plaintiff would have been in had defendant done nothing” (Heard v City of New York, 82 N.Y.2d at 72; see Malpeli v Yenna, 81 A.D.3d 607, 609). The defendants argued that plaintiff was intoxicated and the security guard did not owe her any specific duty of care, and more importantly, he did nothing wrong. However, the Second Dept. Court felt that there were issues of fact about whether the security guard’s conduct was a detriment to her safety and whether his conduct increased the risk of harm because plaintiff depended on him to get down the stairs and to her car safely. See Heard v City of New York, 82 N.Y.2d at 73; Lewis v Lester’s of NY, Inc., 205 A.D.3d 796). Normally, a duty of care to a person who needs assistance cannot be extended to simply anyone because there is no specific requirement to do so under the law. However, this case shows that an premises employee who engages a patron and chooses to assist a public patron must do so carefully and show a higher standard of care because they purposefully placed themselves to aid the distressed person, which creates the liability and standard of care from their actions. Property owners should inform their employees that engaging with a public patron, under certain situations, creates a duty of care requiring them to make sure the patron remains free from harm under reasonable circumstances. Thanks to Raymond Gonzalez for his assistance in this article. Should you have any questions, please contact Tom Bracken.Read More
Open And Obvious Danger Defense Affirmed In Federal PA CaseIn recent case of Pusateri v. Wal-Mart Stores East L.P., the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania found that under PA state law, landowners do not owe business invitees a duty of care for open and obvious dangers that can be avoided through invitees’ exercise of ordinary care. In Pusateri, plaintiff sued Walmart Stores East, L.P. (“Walmart”), alleging negligence as to a business invitee on the theory of premises liability. Plaintiff attempted to avoid a collision with an approaching employee’s shopping cart, and backed into a product display that was in the middle of an aisle at Walmart, causing her to fall. However, in the minutes leading up to the incident, Plaintiff had walked past the display four times. Walmart moved for summary judgment arguing that it did not owe, and thus could not have breached, a duty to Plaintiff because the product display was “open and obvious.” While it was undisputed Plaintiff was a business invitee at the time of the accident, the court cited PA’s settled adoption of Section 343 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, a landowner is liable for “for physical harm caused to his invitees” if, and only if he: (a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and (b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and (c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger. The court further noted that: Section 343A of the Restatement further provides that ‘[a] possessor of land is not liable to his invitees for physical harm caused to them by any activity or condition on the land whose danger is known or obvious to them, unless the possessor should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.’ The court finally reasoned a landowner should only “anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness” in situations where the exercise of ordinary care on the part of an invitee, would be insufficient to avoid the open and obvious danger. While the court ultimately dismissed the motion for summary judgment because the employee’s shopping cart created a distraction for Plaintiff that rendered the obviousness of the product display a question for the jury, the holding confirmed that where a danger is open and obvious, and the danger can be avoided by the exercise of ordinary care, landowners do not owe business invitees a duty of care. Pusateri is a victory for defendant landowners in that it limits the duties owed to invitees which in turn limits potential exposure to liability. Thanks to Stephen Kerstein for his assistance in this article. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact Tom Bracken.Read More
Middle Car In “Chain Collision” Can Escape On Summary JudgmentDefending a rear-end collision when plaintiff is in a stopped car can be difficult, the cards are stacked against you and generally speaking, so is the law. Plaintiff only needs to establish that they were stopped as prima facie showing that the operator of the rear vehicle was negligent. However, the Second Department has recently held that, the same rules do not apply for a “middle” car in an accordion accident. In the matter of Liya Robinson v. New York City Transit Authority and Ghilan Noman Ali, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op 00683, Ms. Robinson brought suit to recover for personal injuries resulting from a multiple car pileup. Here, Ms. Robinson was sitting at a red light, when a New York City Bus struck her from the rear, resulting in two other cars being struck. Ms. Robinson brought suit against the NYCTA, as well as the drivers of the two vehicles in front of her. While it may seem clear that the two front vehicles would have no liability in such an action, and in fact summary judgment was held awarded in their favor, the court widened its holding, specifically stating that “in a chain-collision accident, the defendant operator/owner of the middle vehicle may establish prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by demonstrating that the middle vehicle was properly stopped behind the lead when it was struck from behind by the rear vehicle and propelled into the lead vehicle.” Id., citing Nicola v Nicolas, 208 AD3d 791, 793. Thus, the mere fact that the insured was in a rear-end collision and was not the lead, is not dispositive of the action. In fact, if they were in the middle of the collision, they may be able to successfully obtain summary judgment and share no liability whatsoever. Thanks to Christopher Palmieri for his assistance in this post. Should you have any questions, please contact Tom Bracken.Read More
College Security Program Creates Duty To Implement That Program Properly (PA)In Doe v. Moravian College, 2023 U.S. Dist. Lexis 4027, 2023 WL 144436 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 10, 2023), the Court acknowledged that landlords can be found liable for the criminal conduct of other parties when the landlord establishes a program of security. In Doe, Plaintiff asserted a claim of negligence against her college alleging that the school failed to provide adequate security after she was allegedly sexually assaulted in a dorm. Generally, a landlord owes no duty to protect its tenants from the criminal conduct of other parties. However, the Court found that an exception to Pennsylvania’s standard negligence law applied when a landlord establishes a program of security, the tenants reasonably rely upon it, and the landlord negligent carries out the program. In Doe v. Moravian College, the court found that there is evidence that the college had implemented a security program in the dormitories by requiring school identification cards to enter the dormitories, they used residential advisors in their dormitories, and that security workers were employed by the school. The school, therefore, owed a duty to the Plaintiff as a landlord. The College argued that no duty was owed because courts have stopped imposing a duty of loco parentis upon colleges and universities. However, the Court differentiated the case because the tortious act took place in a campus dormitory. Ultimately, the Plaintiff’s case failed when she had to show that the College breached a duty to the Plaintiff by showing that the operation of the security program was negligent. Here, the Court found that the Plaintiff failed to provide evidence of the breach through a negligent security program. Thanks to Jean Scanlan for her contribution to this post. Should you have any questions, please contact Tom Bracken.Read More
Failure To Facilitate A Meeting Of The Minds On A Pretrial Agreement Is Perilous
In Jones v. Blue Ridge Mfg., LLC, 4D21-1799 (Fla. 4th DCA Dec. 14, 2022), the parties stipulated that the death was the result of decedent’s head’s “direct or indirect contact” with defendant’s vehicle. There was evidence that decedent suffered a basal skull fracture caused by decedent’s head’s “direct or indirect contact” with defendant’s truck. There was also evidence that the basal skull fracture was the result of inertial forces (the fatal injury believed to have been suffered by race car driver Dale Earnhardt) not caused by decedent’s head’s “direct or indirect contact” with defendant’s truck.
The defendant sought to withdraw the stipulation pretrial, arguing that the meaning of “direct or indirect contact” was not clear. The court declined to do so but did allow the defendant to argue its interpretation of the stipulation and put on evidence supporting that interpretation.
On appeal, the court discussed the purpose of, legal analysis applied to, pretrial stipulations. The court recognized that stipulations were valuable to a “well-run and fair trial,” warned that “the failure to facilitate a meeting of the minds on a pretrial agreement is perilous,” and cautioned that “stipulations be clear, positive, definitive, and unambiguous.”
Because it could “fairly be read to mean that the parties intended the ‘direct or indirect’ contact issues to be determined by the jury,” the appellate court found the stipulation ambiguous. Applying this finding, the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the jury to determine the meaning of the stipulation or in allowing extrinsic evidence regarding the meaning of the stipulation.
The takeaway: Be aware of the nuances presented by the evidence, and do not let your familiarity with the evidence result in a less than clear stipulation.
Thanks to Charles “Chip” George for this article. Please contact Chip with any questions.Read More
Is Being Free Of Fault Necessary To Be Awarded Summary Judgment On Liability In An Automobile Case? (NY)Though automobile accidents, large and small, are things we try to avoid at all costs, sometimes they do happen. If there is competing testimony in a case as to how a car accident did happen, summary judgment on liability may be ruled out. Recently, in Golovnya v. Artemchenko, 210 A.D.3d, (2d Dep’t November 30, 2022), a defendant, who was awarded summary judgment on liability by the lower court, had it taken away on appeal for failing to establish, prima facie, entitlement to judgment as a matter of law because she did not demonstrate freedom from fault in the happening of the accident. The Court reasoned that proximate causation could only be decided as a matter of law when only one conclusion could be reached from the facts. Here, the Court considered the deposition testimony of the plaintiff and defendant which illustrated conflicting explanations of the accident. Such conflicting explanations pointed to the possibility of more than one proximate cause of the accident, and it is the task of the trier of fact to determine the issue of proximate cause. It was in light of the “conflicting testimony regarding the manner in which the accident occurred” that the defendant failed to eliminate triable issues of fact. Neither party was awarded summary judgment on the issue of liability. This case is a reminder of the importance of the element of proximate causation, comparative negligence, and factual particularity. Please contact John Diffley for questions about this article.Read More
Speculation On Causation Of Infections Will Not Be Permitted By New York CourtsIn Michael Pecora v. Fitness International LLC, 2023 NY Slip Op 00103 (2d Dept. 2023), plaintiff alleged he contracted infections at his local gym as a gym member in July 2014. He received an infection on his stomach, received medical treatment for that infection, and then alleged that after use of the gym sauna, he thereafter developed MRSA (a bacterial infection) one day later. Plaintiff sued the gym alleging that both infections were caused by a dangerous or defective condition on the premises which caused plaintiff’s infections. However, the Court did not buy plaintiff’s argument and the Appellate Division affirmed that ruling. Of import, Counsel for the gym provided a prima facie argument that the plaintiff would not be able to prove, without resorting to speculation, that the pathogen which caused his infections was present at the defendants’ facility, Defendants submitted an expert report citing that such infections can be transmitted in various ways in different locations, that the facility was cleaned regularly, and there were no prior complaints or reports of MRSA infections. The Appellate court also determined that “since there could have been many possible sources of the infection-producing pathogen, any determination by the trier of fact that a condition at the defendants’ facility caused the plaintiff’s infections would be based upon sheer conjecture” (Dennis v Lakhani, 102 A.D.3d 651, 652; cf. Ash v City of New York, 109 A.D.3d 854, 855; Garvin v Rosenberg, 204 A.D.2d 388). Plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact against those arguments. As result of Covid and other transmitted infections, property managers have seen the increase in suits of this type and while it can be difficult to defend because plaintiffs allege that the infection came from the property owner, medical experts are necessary to explain these types of MRSA infections are common and can occur anywhere. This case shows that the Appellate Court will sustain summary judgment ruling if a premises owner can prove that it maintained and cleaned the facility regularly, and there were no previous reports from other public patrons. Thanks to Raymond Gonzalez for his assistance in this post. Should you have any questions, please contact Tom Bracken.Read More
Federal Rule of Evidence 702 Standard of Care for Medical Experts Requires Sufficient, Supported, and Reliable Expert TestimonyIn the recent case of M.D.R. by Rivera v. Temple University Hospital, The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found that under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, for a plaintiff to prove that a hospital is liable for medical negligence, the plaintiff cannot merely provide expert testimony that shows a deviation from that expert’s subjective perception of the relevant standard of care. Rather, plaintiffs must provide sufficient and reliable expert testimony as to what the relevant standard of care actually is. In M.D.R., plaintiff, through her mother, sued Temple University Hospital (“TUH”), alleging medical malpractice resulting in a birth-related injury to her arm. TUH moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff’s experts’ opinions would be inadmissible at trial because they failed to satisfy the Daubert standard on reliability. Plaintiff’s experts both opined that M.D.R.’s brachial plexus injury could only have occurred “as a direct result of the obstetrician’s application of excessive “traction” on the baby’s head and cannot be caused by the natural forces of labor.” Accordingly, the experts opined that the existence of a brachial plexus injury was sufficient in proving that the nurses and obstetricians had breached the standard of care. Plaintiff’s experts both reached this opinion however without opining on what that applicable standard of care was in this situation. The court found that plaintiff’s experts’ opinions assumed facts not in evidence and were directly contradictory to almost all current and available scientific literature on the subject, including literature cited by the experts themselves. Moreover, the court found that as a matter of law, medical experts must establish, in a Daubert-satisfactory manner, what the standard of care is for a given case, and how that standard was or was not satisfied, as opposed to merely opining that the existence of a certain injury was sufficient proof to demonstrate the breach of an abstract and undefined standard of care. As such the court deemed M.D.R.’s expert opinions unreliable and granted TUH’s motion for summary judgment. M.D.R. is a victory for defendants in medical malpractice suits because it reinforces the role of judges as active gatekeepers in determining whether expert testimony is reliable and therefore admissible. The case therefore limits the ability of plaintiffs to use so-called expert testimony, not truly supported by the scientific community, to satisfy the expert requirement in medical malpractice suits Thanks to Stephen Kerstein for his assistance with this post. Should you have any questions, please contact Tom Bracken.Read More
Surveillance Footage May Be Deemed Speculative For Showing CausationGenerally speaking, in order to establish liability for a personal injury action, plaintiff must identify the cause of their injury without engaging in speculation. Courts oftentimes provide liberal application of this and will permit inferences from the facts of the underlying circumstances. However, mere speculation as to the cause of a fall, when many causes present themselves, will not be sufficient. In the matter Cheprakova v. Medicine Plaza, Inc., et al., 2002 N.Y. Slip Opp. 07434 (2d Dep’t Dec. 28, 2022) suit was brought to recover for injuries sustained in a slip and fall action when plaintiff slipped inside a pharmacy owned and operated by Defendant Medicine Plaza. After discovery, Defendant Medicine Plaza argued plaintiff was unable to point to the cause of her fall and moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The lower court and the Second Department agreed, and dismissed the claims against Defendant Medicine Plaza. In support of its position, Defendant submitted the deposition transcript and asserted plaintiff did not know the cause of the fall. Plaintiff presented an export report and surveillance footage of the accident. Despite the court being under an obligation to view the evidence most favorable to the non-moving party, the court still determined that the surveillance footage was not sufficient to show the cause of her fall. This court determined that evidence depicting the accident may not be sufficient in establishing the cause of the accident itself, which is a necessary step to recover on personal injury claims for premises liability. Thanks to Chris Palmieri for his assistance with this post. Should you have any questions, please contact Tom Bracken.Read More
Plaintiff’s Comparative Negligence Not Admissible In A Strict Liability Action (PA)
In Cote v. Schnell Industries, 2022 WL 16814032 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 8. 2022), Cote was injured while working at a transfer yard moving sand used in “fracking” operations from railcars to tractor-trailers for delivery to fracking customers. When Cote reached his hand into a piece of equipment to dislodge the wet sand so the sand could be properly transported onto the conveyor belt, his co-worker simultaneously activated the machine’s “power take off” lever, which slammed a gate shut and nearly severed Cote’s hand.
The defendant equipment manufacturer argued that Cote acted negligently because “he knew of the danger posed by putting his hand through the [gate] while the machine was energized.” Defendant’s theory related directly to the alleged product. Cote argued that the equipment was defective because “it cannot isolate, deenergize and lockout its [power take off lever] so that workers can safely unload jammed sand . . . without risk of the door closing.”
The court granted Cote’s motion in limine, holding that defendant was precluded from arguing that Cote’s negligence caused the accident. The Court reasoned that because Cote’s alleged negligence “cannot be causally distinguished from the elements of the [equipment] Cote considers defective, [defendant] is unable to show ‘that none of the alleged product defects contributed in any way to the accident.’”
This case stands for the proposition that a plaintiff’s conduct in a products liability case is relevant only if the conduct was the sole cause of the accident and unrelated to the alleged defect.
Thanks to Sarah Polacek for her contribution to this post. Please contact Heather Aquino with any questions.Read More