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Articles Posted in Legal News

The University of Baltimore School of Law has a new dean. Ronald Weich, former Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs at the Department of Justice, will take the helm at UB.

I discuss now Dean Weich and the other candidates for the top spot at UB law school here. He was my original second choice who was later ( via sour grapes ) upgraded to my first choice.

new law school dean

He’s the one on the left.

Most personal injury appellate opinions involve a high level of human suffering. If you stopped and connected with every opinion that involved human suffering, you would spend all day looking into the abyss. Every wrongful death case is awful. But this appellate opinion last week from Indiana just has unbelievably depressing facts.

Tragic Facts of Androusky v. Walter

A woman asks the defendant, her boyfriend’s stepfather, if she and her children – ages 3 and 4 – can stay with him. He says no. But while he is away; she has a pool party at his house. He comes home and says what you think he would say: “Get out.” She asks if she can stay until the morning after breakfast. Defendant reluctantly agrees.wrongful death defense verdict

Defendant goes to work in the morning. Defendant’s stepson lets the boys play outside around 10:30. Mom was still asleep. She wakes up, sees the kids playing outside, and goes back into the house, leaving them to play by the pool. The woman comes back to find her son, but can’t locate him. They look everywhere until it finally occurs to them he might be in the pool. The boy is at the bottom of the pool. He was taken off life support the day after the incident when it was determined that he was brain dead.

It is easy to be judgmental of other parents. You try to fight the compelling urge to judge because you can’t put yourself in anyone else’s situation. Walk a mile in their moccasins and all of that. But I don’t have any energy to fight that judgmental feeling on this one. Continue reading

Will strict liability for pit bulls in Maryland cost the state $30 million in state and local tax revenue and cut back rental incomes to the tune of $144 million? Hard to believe. But these folks have numbers to make their argument. If these estimates are even half right, it would be a powerful example of the law of unintended pit bull strict liabilityconsequences.

Are Pit bulls Really an Issue?

Pit bulls certainly have their defenders. I am one of them.  But there are the top 5 breeds that make up most of these claims:

This blog post is an exception to the usual “personal injury related only” rule on this blog. The Maryland Court of Appeals (Maryland’s “supreme court”) ruled unanimously today that Maryland must recognize as married same-sex couples who legally wed in other states.

A married same-sex couple from California sought a divorce here in Maryland. Prince George’s County Judge A. Michael Chapdelaine denied the divorce petition because the marriage was “not valid” and “contrary to the public policy of Maryland.” Continue reading

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued its opinion on Friday in WMATA v. Williams, a workers’ compensation claim that addresses how far the chain for causation can go before the court decides that a later “related” injury is just too attenuated. Although I do not handle workers’ compensation cases, I think the legal issues here are interesting and have broader implications for workers’ compensation cases.

The plaintiff (I know, you call them claimants in comp; it just sounds weird to me) hurt his knee on the job. While attending “work hardening” therapy, the driver of a car in the parking lot put her car in reverse, backed into the plaintiff, resulting in an injury to his other knee for which he also sought workers’ compensation benefits.workers' compensation opinion

I can see this from both sides. At first glance, I think it seems pretty attenuated to argue a causal relationship just because you coincidentally got injured going to lunch from therapy. There has to be some difference between causation in fact and proximate causation. This would seem to jibe with the Maryland high court’s holding in Mackin v. Harris. In that case, the court explained that for every injury, there are innumerable acts whose absence would have prevented the harm. It is the butterfly effect. Going back to Palsgraf, that is not and cannot be how proximate cause is defined. I’m a plaintiffs’ lawyer and even I get this. Continue reading

There were no personal injury appellate opinions this week in state or federal court in Maryland this week but there are a few cases elsewhere worth a read:

  • In Morse v. Davis, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a $1.25 million verdict (actually $2.5 million reduced by the cap) in a colon cancer misdiagnosis case. Defendant made two arguments we see in various permutations in our practice. The first is the whole idea of whether an expert can speak directly or indirectly to the ultimate issue of fact for the jury. The second is the extent to which an expert can make credibility determinations about another witness. I think this is often an issue not worth fighting for plaintiffs’ lawyers when the defense is calling a plaintiff a liar. Rich Friedman’s book Polarizing the Case is an illuminating read on whether it is a good thing to make the trial about whether your client is a liar.
  • In Horak v. Building Services Industrial Sales Company, the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin found that invoices produced by the company’s lawyer, that appellate opinionsdocumented the sale of products that contained asbestos, are admissible even without an authenticating witness under the ancient-documents exception to the hearsay rule. Given the value of asbestos cases, that is a valuable invoice to find.

Last week, in Hendrix v. Burns, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals dealt with the question of what plaintiffs’ lawyers can admit into evidence in a car accident case when the defendant stipulates to liability.

In car accident cases, many defense lawyers loathe admitting responsibility. There is always a chance that the jury will hate the plaintiff and accept some insane version of how an accident happened.

But, the best thing that can happen for the plaintiff is for the defense lawyer to deny responsibility in a case because it diminishes the defense lawyer’s credibility on the plaintiff’s injuries. If you are plaintiffs’ counsel, you want to get the jury mad at the defendant. Jurors give more money when they are mad. This is hard in traffic collision cases because it is hard for jurors to get mad at a negligent driver who makes what they can perceive to be an accident that they could easily make themselves.defendant drunk driver

Smart attorneys for plaintiff frame the case, not as an accident, but a choice the defendant made. “The defendant in this case chose not to pay attention.” But still, we all know that we have failed to pay attention while driving and it could have, under the wrong circumstances, lead to a car accident.

In Hendrix, the call to stipulate to liability was a no-brainer for State Farm who defended the case. The defendant was drunk. He tried to flee the scene of the accident, but his damaged car wouldn’t let him. He was in the middle of some road rage dispute. A picture-perfect bad guy defendant for the jury to hate.

State Farm did what they should do, file a motion in limine to exclude the introduction of evidence that the defendant was drunk, that he had been involved in a “road rage” incident with another driver and was crazily chasing that driver when he ran the red light, that defendant attempted to flee after the accident, and also that his criminal record included DUI convictions.

Plaintiff’s lawyer did what smart ones do in a case like this. He brought a battery case for the road rage, arguing that has been put to bed since law school doctrines like transferred intent. He brought a negligent entrustment count. He also smartly argued that a part of Plaintiff’s pain and suffering was seeing the defendant drunk and trying to flee the scene of the accident. This is doing everything you could do to put your client in a position to maximize her damages.

Does this have anything to do with the level of damages in a personal injury case? It depends on your world view. If you think damages should be calculated in a hermetically sealed box, it shouldn’t be admissible. From this perspective, it shouldn’t matter whether the defendant was a crackhead on his 6th DWI or a nun with a 40 years history impeccable driving.

Yet, somehow, that she was a nun would come out on direct. Why? Because the insurance defense lawyer is trying to minimize damages by suggesting that this nun is a sweetie and she will have to pay this verdict out of her pocket.

Why do we let the nun say she is a nun? Context matters. But once you agree that the fact that she is a nun should be admitted, doesn’t the dam break open when the defendant is drunk. Isn’t that context – like the nun – that the jury should consider? Continue reading

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stuck down a $5 million verdict in an Ethicon endocutter design defect case last week, finding that the trial court was not restricted to considering only one use of the device and that it correctly applied a risk-utility analysis. The case talks about product liability risk-utility analysis in the Restatement (Third) of Torts. You can read the court’s opinion here.

liability design defect claims

Plaintiff, a 40-year-old mother, underwent gastric bypass surgery (Technically, she is the plaintiff’s decedent. I use “plaintiff” because of my refusal to use the plaintiff’s names on this blog, a stance that sometimes makes recitation of the facts awkward in wrongful death cases.). To cut and resection the plaintiff’s stomach, her doctors used an ETS-Flex45 Articulating Endoscopic Linear Cutter – called an “endocutter” – made by Johnson & Johnson, subsidiary Ethicon Endo-Surgery (Let’s say charitably that both companies are frequent flyer product liability defendants.). The device was designed for use in less-invasive endoscopic surgery. It also was marketed for use in traditional “open” surgery in which a large incision is used to view internal organs.

After complications, Plaintiff’s doctors conducted a second surgery and discovered that staples were absent in two small sections and attributed the problem to “mechanical staple failure.” Sadly, the Plaintiff’s stomach contents had leaked into her abdominal cavity, causing sepsis, and her eventual death.

Plaintiff’s Estate filed a wrongful death suit contending that the endocutter was unreasonably dangerous because it was not equipped with a means to either measure the thickness of the tissue being stapled or lock the device if the tissue thickness was incorrect. Plaintiff’s Estate contended that had the endocutter been designed with this capability, it would have prevented the staple line failure that caused Plaintiff’s death.

An Allegheny County, Pennsylvania jury agreed, finding the endocutter’s defective design caused the woman’s wrongful death and awarded $ 5 million, finding that the endocutter was defectively designed.

The big issue in the case was the application of the risk/utility analysis required in a products liability action to determine whether a product is unreasonably dangerous. Here, the endocutter at issue was marketed for multiple recognized uses, but the injury to the plaintiff was caused by only one of those uses. So the question is whether the trial court’s risk-utility analysis should be limited to the use that caused the plaintiff injury or should it consider all the uses of the product. Continue reading

Forbes, via Overlawyered, has an interesting article on Houston lawyer, Steve Susman’s efforts to cover lawyers on both sides of the aisle to try more jury trials… and make cases easier to try. How? Buy reaching stipulations on all the dumb things lawyers argue about.

Great idea that will never work in a vehicle accident or med mal case in Maryland. Why? Rule #1 of being an insurance defense lawyer for both in-house and outside counsel is don’t screw up by doing something outside of the box. For example, one suggestion Susman makes is to agree in advance not to depose each other’s experts. After a large verdict, every insurance company does a CSI forensics witch-hunt. “You did not depose the insurance defense lawyersplaintiffs’ experts. Why? Did you get permission for Jonathan P. Paperpusher for that decision?” Insurance companies are not promoting (in-house lawyers for car insurance companies) or doling out work to lawyers (outside counsel) who take outside-the-box risks that could backfire. Insurance companies give out a lot of love to singles hitters, but far less to home run hitters who occasionally strikeout. Continue reading

I’ll take “Gimmick Blog Post Titles That Will Defy the Odds and Be Worth Reading, I’m Serious, Just Give Me a Chance” for $400 please, Alex.

Tied for first at the top of Knick players who have had 20 points and 7 assists with 6 consecutive games is Jeremy Lin. As little as three weeks ago, if you were taking odds, you would have bet the Knicks would cut him so they did not have to guarantee his salary for the season. The odds of going from there to this are roughly the same as Barack Obama calling you today and telling you he is dropping Eric Holder, and he desperately needs you to be the U.S. Attorney General. Seriously, the last time I enjoyed a sports story this much was when Mark “The Bird” Fidrych burst onto the scene in 1976. And that was only because I was 7 years old. Jeremy Lin is actually a better story.

There are a lot of Jeremy Lins out there in our business – great personal injury lawyers that are obscure and handling Yorkshire Terrier dog bite cases. Their first problem is the lack of opportunity. Trial lawyers can only do so much with the facts they have. If you don’t have good cases, you will struggle to get consistently great verdicts even if are channeling your inner Gerry Spence.

(The same is true for defense counsel. I’ve tried cases against lawyers considered to the best in Maryland that I thought they were awful or I caught them jeremy lin personal injury caseson a bad day. I’ve also tried cases against lawyers I thought were brilliant that I know have a very hard time chasing down $120 an hour auto tort insurance clients. It is even harder for defense lawyers in some ways because they don’t get paid and recognized for good results like personal injury lawyers do… unless they really know how to spin their successes.)

They key when you are in this spot is to Jeremy Lin it. (Yes, I’m using his name as a verb, too.) Do the best you can with what you have. Shortly after we started our practice, we tried a case in Baltimore County where a woman was in line at the drive-thru at the bank and got in a rear-end accident. The uncontested testimony was that the at-fault driver was going one mile an hour. Laura and I tried the case together. We threw everything and the kitchen sink at it and we got a $125,000 verdict. We had had better verdicts, but this was our signature verdict. LawyersWeeklyUSA did a cover story on it. We got some attention, more lawyers started referring us cases, in we built from there.

(Looking back, almost 10 years later, I look at all differently. Man, I wish I could not see so many shades of gray. First, I’m a little embarrassed we even took the case. How pathetic is it, on some level, to take 1 mph bumper tap case, anyway? And we are really bragging about getting $125,000? My law firm would never take that case in 2012. Yes, I believed the plaintiff was hurt from the car accident and still do. It was one of those rare, fluke things that happen. Still, we turn down cases all the time where I think the person may have gotten badly hurt from the accident but we don’t think we can prove it. Also, the unspoken implication was that we were such great lawyers we could turn a garbage car accident or another personal injury case into a case just because we were the attorneys. It is a false premise, although a lot of lawyers full of themselves would swear otherwise.)

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