Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
by
The case involves a personal injury action brought by Earlene McBride against Carnival Corporation. McBride fell out of her wheelchair while being assisted by a Carnival crewmember, Fritz Charles, during disembarkation from a Carnival cruise ship. McBride claimed that she suffered severe injuries due to the fall and sued Carnival for negligence.The case was initially heard in the Southern District of Florida. During the trial, the court allowed the deposition testimony of Charles to be presented to the jury over McBride's objection. The jury awarded McBride economic damages for past medical expenses related to the fall but did not award her any damages for past pain and suffering. McBride appealed the district court's judgment, arguing that the court erred in allowing Charles's deposition testimony to be presented to the jury and that the jury's verdict was inadequate because it did not award her past pain and suffering damages.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to allow Charles's deposition testimony to be presented to the jury. The court found that McBride had waived her objection to the use of the deposition by not raising it at the appropriate time during the trial. However, the court reversed the district court's denial of McBride's motion for a new trial on the issue of past pain and suffering damages related to the past medical expenses the jury awarded. The court found that the jury's verdict was inadequate as a matter of law because there was uncontradicted evidence that McBride suffered at least some pain in the immediate aftermath of the wheelchair incident. The case was remanded for a new trial limited to the issue of past pain and suffering damages related to the past medical expenses the jury awarded. View "McBride v. Carnival Corporation" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Maria Acosta, who sued six Miami-Dade officers involved in the arrest of her son, Maykel Barrera, who died after the encounter. Acosta alleged federal excessive-force claims and state wrongful-death claims. The district court granted summary judgment to the officers, and Acosta appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to five of the six officers on Acosta’s excessive-force claims and to all of the officers on Acosta’s wrongful-death claims.The Court of Appeals found that, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Acosta, the officers used excessive force when they tased and kicked Barrera while he was subdued, on the ground, and no longer resisting arrest, violating clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.Furthermore, the court vacated the summary judgment on Acosta’s wrongful-death claim, concluding that there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial. The court ruled that the district court erred in emphasizing Acosta’s lack of expert evidence directed to the cause of Barrera’s death since she did not have to present expert testimony to show causation. View "Acosta v. Miami-Dade County" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit had to apply Florida tort law to a dispute concerning the collapse of a crane boom. The plaintiff, NBIS Construction & Transport Insurance Services, Inc., an insurer of the crane's owner, sued the defendants, Liebherr-America, Inc., a distributor and servicer of the type of crane in question, for over $1.7 million in damages resulting from the collapse. The defendants argued that they were shielded from liability by Florida’s economic loss rule. The magistrate judge, after a five-day bench trial, rejected this argument. The court of appeals found Florida law unclear on this issue and certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court.The facts of the case involved a crane purchased by Sims Crane & Equipment Company from a non-party broker, which was manufactured by Liebherr Werk Ehingen GMbH. Two Sims crane operators received training from a Liebherr-America employee, which involved swapping out different configurations of the crane boom. However, the training was inadequate and did not provide sufficient information about the proper placement of specific pins which, if misadjusted, could cause the crane boom to collapse. When the crane boom did collapse during a construction project, causing a fatality and damage to the crane, NBIS filed a negligence suit against Liebherr-America.The key issue in the case was whether Florida’s economic loss rule, which generally limits recovery in tort cases to situations where there is damage to other property or personal injury, and not just economic loss, applied in this case. The defendants argued that the rule should apply because the plaintiff’s negligence claims were akin to failure to warn theories found in products liability law, which fall within the scope of the rule. The plaintiff argued that the rule should not apply because this was not a product liability case asserting a product defect, but rather a case alleging negligent services provided by the defendants. Because the court found Florida law unclear on this issue, it certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court. View "NBIS Construction & Transport Insurance Services, v. Liebherr-America, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Thanquarius R. Calhoun was appealing the denial of his federal habeas petition following his conviction for felony murder and other crimes in the state of Georgia. Calhoun had led police on a high-speed chase that resulted in a passenger's death after law enforcement used a Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT) maneuver to stop his vehicle.Calhoun's appeal argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his defense counsel did not present a defense or request a jury instruction on the theory that the PIT maneuver, and not his own actions, was the proximate or intervening cause of the passenger's death.Under Georgia law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Georgia, a defendant's act is not the "legal cause" of an injury or damage if some other act "intervenes." However, if the intervening act "could reasonably have been anticipated, apprehended, or foreseen by the original wrong-doer, the causal connection is not broken, and the original wrong-doer is responsible for all of the consequences resulting from the intervening act." In other words, proximate cause is not affected by a reasonably foreseeable intervening cause.The Eleventh Circuit, giving deference to the Supreme Court of Georgia's interpretation of Georgia law, found that the PIT maneuver was reasonably foreseeable given Calhoun's reckless behavior during the police chase. As a result, the use of the maneuver did not break the causal chain linking Calhoun's actions to the passenger's death. Thus, Calhoun had not carried his burden to show a reasonable probability that the outcome of his trial would have been different if his counsel had argued that the PIT maneuver was an intervening cause. Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of Calhoun's habeas petition. View "Calhoun v. Warden, Baldwin State Prison" on Justia Law

by
In a personal injury lawsuit, Carelyn Fylling sued Royal Caribbean Cruises for negligence after she tripped, fell, and hit her head while entering a deck on one of their cruise ships. The case was tried before a jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. During the trial, the court became aware that one of the jurors had a niece who worked for Royal Caribbean. Despite this potential conflict of interest, the court did not remove or question this juror about any potential bias, and allowed her to participate in deliberations. The jury found Royal Caribbean negligent, but also found Fylling comparative-negligent, reducing her recovery by ninety percent. Fylling appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the lower court abused its discretion by not investigating the potential bias of the juror related to an employee of the defendant.The Eleventh Circuit agreed with Fylling. The court held that the district court abused its discretion by not investigating whether the juror could impartially discharge her responsibilities once it became aware of her potential bias. The court explained that when a district court becomes aware of potential juror bias, it is required to develop the factual circumstances sufficiently to make an informed judgment as to whether bias exists. A district court's obligation to protect the right to an impartial jury does not end when the jury is impaneled and sworn. The Eleventh Circuit therefore reversed the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. View "Fylling v. Royal Carribean Cruises, Ltd." on Justia Law

by
This case stems from a car accident that claimed the lives of four young women. The women’s estates sued the driver who rear-ended their car, for negligence. And the estates sued the driver’s employer, Discount Rock & Sand, Inc., for negligently entrusting the company’s truck to the driver and for vicarious liability for Blanco’s negligent driving. The district court ordered the dismissal of the claim against the driver. The remaining claims against Discount Rock went to trial, and the jury found the company liable and awarded nearly $12 million in damages to the estates. Discount Rock appealed the judgment.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that although the stipulation did not comply with rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), the district court’s order dismissing the claim against the driver satisfied rule 41(a)(2)—which allows a district court to dismiss an action by court order at a plaintiff’s request. And on the merits, the court concluded that: (1) Discount Rock was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the negligent entrustment claim; (2) any error in instructing the jury on the rear-end-collision presumption was harmless; and (3) there was no reversible error in publishing the demonstrative aid. The court explained that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that Discount Rock negligently entrusted the driver with the modified truck. And even though the district court erred in instructing the jury on Florida’s rebuttable presumption that a rear-ending driver was negligent, that error wasn’t “to the prejudice of” Discount Rock because Discount Rock failed to produce evidence rebutting the presumption. View "Ricardo Sanchez, et al. v. Discount Rock & Sand, Inc." on Justia Law

by
After Plaintiff sustained serious injuries from a hot-soup spill at Noodle College Park, an Atlanta-area restaurant, she and her spouse sued Shou & Shou, Inc., which owned and operated the restaurant. Shou & Shou tendered the defense to and sought coverage from AmGuard Insurance Company. But AmGuard denied coverage on the ground that the policy named “Noodle, Inc.”—an entity that did not exist—as insured. Shou & Shou settled the suit and assigned the Lowerys its rights under the policy. Plaintiffs, as assignees, then sued AmGuard for equitable reformation of the policy. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and later entered a final judgment.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that reformation of the policy was proper under Georgia law. The court explained that the district court correctly equitably reformed the 2016–17 policy to insure the true owner of the restaurant. The court explained that AmGuard insists that it could not have shared Shou & Shou’s mistake because it did not know the “identity” of the intended insured and could not have intended to “name” Shou & Shou as an insured. But Georgia law does not demand that degree of specificity in defining a mutual mistake. Further, the court held that Plaintiffs claim of breach of contract merges with reformation of the policy. View "Hee Lowery, et al v. AmGuard Insurance Company" on Justia Law

by
The bankruptcy proceeding underlying this case was initiated by Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. (“Wilkes”), for relief against Fundamental Long Term Care, Inc. (“FLTCI”) on behalf of the Estate of Juanita Jackson. The Jackson Estate had obtained judgments of $55 million against Trans Health, Inc. (“THI”) and Trans Health Management, Inc. (“THMI”). The trustee of the Debtor’s estate (the “Trustee”) employed Steven M. Berman and Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP (“Shumaker”) as special litigation counsel. According to Wilkes, when the Trustee employed Shumaker it was not disinterested as required by Section 327(a). On remand, the Bankruptcy Court held that Berman’s omissions did not warrant sanctions under Rule 2014. The Probate Estates appealed the District Court’s decision.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that Wilkes, in representing the Probate Estates, sought huge sums in the form of damages in state court against the companies affiliated with the decedents’ nursing homes. After having received one multimillion-dollar judgment in Jackson, Wilkes realized that the powers that be in the THI corporate structure had executed a bust-out scheme to separate THMI’s liabilities from its assets and to hide those assets to avoid paying the Jackson judgment. Once the Bankruptcy Court appointed a trustee for FLTCI, Wilkes could then use the Trustee and the Trustee’s strongarm power to enhance its own discovery and pursue causes of action that it would not be able to pursue alone, attempting to get at THMI’s assets through FLTCI. The court wrote that it is clear that the idea that Shumaker had a bias against Wilkes and the Probate Estates is baseless. View "Estate of Arlene Townsend, et al v. Steven Berman, et al" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling entering judgment in favor of the US in a negligence suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”).  The Seneca was piloted by Nisha Sejwal, with Ralph Knight accompanying her. The Cessna was piloted by Jorge Sanchez, with Carlo Scarpati, a student pilot, also on board. Both planes were “VFR” aircraft operating under standard visual flight rules. The Seneca was departing from, and the Cessna was arriving at, the Tamiami Airport (now known as the Miami Executive Airport) when the collision occurred. The representatives of the pilots’ estates filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), alleging negligence on the part of Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) air traffic controllers at the Tamiami Airport. Following a bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of the United States, and the Plaintiffs appealed.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs contend that language in the district court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law “suggests” that it improperly considered evidence of comparative negligence—an affirmative defense under Florida law—in making its ultimate finding that the controllers were not negligent. In particular, they point to the district court’s statements that there was (1) conflicting evidence about how the planes approached each other prior to the collision and (2) evidence that both planes were equipped with TIS devices and that the Seneca’s TIS device was functioning earlier in the day prior to the collision. The court concluded that the district court did not improperly consider evidence of comparative negligence but rather based its decision on Plaintiffs’ failure to prove the elements of their negligence claim. View "Perry Hodges, et al. v. USA" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff brought a three-count maritime negligence action against Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (“Royal Caribbean”) after she fell aboard one of its cruise ships. She alleged that during the ship’s muster drill, a Royal Caribbean employee rushed her down a set of stairs—causing her to fall and severely injure her neck. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Royal Caribbean. First, on Count I (general negligence) and Count II (negligent failure to warn), the district court found that Plaintiff failed to show that Royal Caribbean had notice of the dangerous conditions that allegedly caused her fall. Second, on Count III (general negligence against Royal Caribbean for its employee’s conduct under a theory of vicarious liability), the district court determined that Plaintiff put forth insufficient evidence of medical causation.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that looking to Florida negligence law: non-readily observable injuries require expert medical evidence to prove causation. The court concluded that Plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient medical evidence to satisfy proximate cause. And because proximate cause must be satisfied for each of Plaintiff’s three negligence-based claims to prevail, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Royal Caribbean. View "Judith Willis v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD." on Justia Law