Articles Posted in Injury Law

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Employee benefits plans regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) often contain subrogation clauses requiring participants to reimburse the plan for medical expenses if they later recover money from a third party. Montanile was seriously injured by a drunk driver. His ERISA plan paid more than $120,000 for his medical expenses. Montanile sued the drunk driver, obtaining a $500,000 settlement. The plan administrator sought reimbursement from the settlement. Montanile’s attorney refused and indicated that the funds would be transferred from a trust account to Montanile unless the administrator objected. The administrator did not respond. Montanile received the settlement. Six months later, the administrator sued under ERISA 502(a)(3), which authorizes plan fiduciaries to file suit “to obtain . . . appropriate equitable relief . . . to enforce . . . the plan.” 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3). The district court rejected Montanile’s arguments, The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that even if Montanile had completely dissipated the fund, the plan was entitled to reimbursement from Montanile’s general assets. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for determination of whether Montanile had dissipated the settlement. When an ERISA-plan participant wholly dissipates a third-party settlement on nontraceable items, the plan fiduciary may not bring suit under section 502(a)(3) to attach the participant’s separate assets. Historical equity practice does not support enforcement of an equitable lien against general assets. View "Montanile v. Bd. of Trs. of Nat'l Elevator Indus. Health Benefit Plan" on Justia Law

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Respondent, a California resident, filed suit against OBB, an Austrian state-owned railway, after she suffered injuries from falling off the railroad tracks at the Innsbruck, Austria, train station. Respondent had purchased a Eurail pass over the Internet from a Massachusetts-based travel agent. The district court granted OBB's motion to dismiss pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(2). The Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that the Eurail pass sale by the travel agent could be attributed to OBB through common law principles of agency, and that respondent’s suit was “based upon” that Eurail pass sale. The Court held, however, that respondent's suit falls outside the commercial activity exception and is barred by sovereign immunity where the suit is not "based upon" the sale of the Eurail pass for purposes of section 1605(a)(2), and respondent's contention that her claims are "based upon" OBB's entire railway enterprise is forfeited. In this case, respondent's action is "based upon" the railway's conduct in Innsbruck. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit. View "OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs" on Justia Law

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The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) provides that a tort claim against the United States “shall be forever barred” unless presented to the appropriate federal agency for review within two years after the claim accrues,” 28 U.S.C. 2401(b). If the agency denies the claim, the claimant may file suit in federal court within six months of the denial. Wong failed to file her FTCA claim in federal court within six months, but argued that the district court had not permitted her to file until after the period expired. June failed to present her FTCA claim to a federal agency within two years, but argued that her untimely filing should be excused because the government concealed facts vital to her claim. In each case, the district court dismissed the FTCA claim, holding that those time bars are jurisdictional and not subject to equitable tolling. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed and remanded. Section 2401(b)’s time limits are subject to equitable tolling. Congress must do something special to tag a statute of limitations as jurisdictional and prohibit a court from tolling it, but did no such thing in section 2401(b). Separation of a filing deadline from a jurisdictional grant often indicates that the deadline is not jurisdictional; the FTCA’s jurisdictional grant appears in another section and is not expressly linked to the limitations periods. The phrase “shall be forever barred” was commonplace in statutes of limitations enacted around the time of the FTCA, and does not carry jurisdictional significance. View "United States v. Wong" on Justia Law

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Warger sued Shauers for negligence for injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident. After the jury returned a verdict for Shauers, a juror contacted Warger’s counsel, claiming that Whipple, the jury foreperson, had revealed during deliberations that her daughter had been at fault in a fatal motor vehicle accident and that a lawsuit would have ruined her daughter’s life. With an affidavit from the juror, Warger moved for a new trial, arguing that Whipple had deliberately lied during voir dire about her impartiality and ability to award damages. The district court denied Warger’s motion, citing Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which bars evidence “about any statement made . . . during the jury’s deliberations.” The Eighth Circuit and a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. Rule 606(b) unambiguously applies to “an inquiry into the validity of [the] verdict,” even to demonstrate dishonesty during voir dire. Warger’s right to an impartial jury remains protected; even if a juror lies to conceal bias, parties may bring to the court’s attention evidence of bias before the verdict is rendered and use nonjuror evidence after the verdict is rendered. The excluded affidavit is “internal.” View "Warger v. Shauers" on Justia Law

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Using FOIA requests directed to the South Carolina DMV, attorneys obtained names and addresses, then sent letters to more than 34,000 individuals, seeking clients for a lawsuit against car dealerships for violation of a state law. The letters were headed “ADVERTISING MATERIAL,” explained the lawsuit, and asked recipients to return an enclosed card to participate in the case. Recipients sued the attorneys, alleging violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. 2721(b)(4), by obtaining, disclosing, and using personal information from motor vehicle records for bulk solicitation without express consent. The district court dismissed, based on a DPPA exception permitting disclosure of personal information "for use in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative, or arbitral proceeding," including "investigation in anticipation of litigation." The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. An attorney’s solicitation of clients is not a permissible purpose under the (b)(4) litigation exception. DPPA’s purpose of protecting privacy in motor vehicle records would be substantially undermined by application of the (b)(4) exception to the general ban on disclosure of personal information and ban on release of highly restricted personal information in cases there is any connection between protected information and a potential legal dispute. The Court noted examples of permissible litigation uses: service of process, investigation in anticipation of litigation, and execution or enforcement of judgments and orders. All involve an attorney’s conduct as an officer of the court, not a commercial actor, seeking a business transaction. A contrary reading of (b)(4) could affect interpretation of the (b)(6) exception, which allows an insurer and certain others to obtain DMV information for use in connection with underwriting, and the (b)(10) exception, which permits disclosure and use of personal information in connection with operation of private tollroads. View "Maracich v. Spears" on Justia Law

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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. 960, contains a provision (section 9658) that preempts statutes of limitations applicable to state-law actions for personal injury or property damage arising from the release of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant into the environment. Section 9658 adopts the discovery rule, so that statutes of limitations begin to run when a plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, that the harm was caused by the contaminant because person who is exposed to a toxic contaminant may not develop or show signs of resulting injury for many years. CTS sold property on which it had stored chemicals as part its operations as an electronics plant; 24 years later, owners of parts of that property and adjacent landowners, sued, alleging damages from the stored contaminants. CTS moved to dismiss, citing a state statute of repose that prevented subjecting a defendant to a tort suit brought more than 10 years after the defendant’s last culpable act. Because CTS’s last act occurred when it sold the property, the district court granted the motion. The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the statute’s remedial purpose favored preemption. The Supreme Court reversed in part, concluding that section 9658 does not pre-empt state statutes of repose. Statutes of limitations promote justice by encouraging plaintiffs to pursue claims diligently and begin to run when a claim accrues. Statutes of repose effect a legislative judgment that a defendant should be free from liability after a legislatively determined amount of time and are measured from the date of the defendant’s last culpable actor omission. Under the language of the statute, pre-emption is characterized as an exception to the regular rule that the “the statute of limitations established under State law” applies; it is proper to conclude that Congress did not intend to preempt statutes of repose. View "CTS Corp. v. Waldburger" on Justia Law

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Walden, a Georgia police officer working as a DEA agent at a Georgia airport, searched plaintiffs and seized a large amount of cash. Plaintiffs claim that after they returned to their Nevada residence, Walden helped draft a false probable cause affidavit in support of forfeiture and forwarded it to a Georgia office of the U.S. Attorney. No forfeiture complaint was filed and the funds were returned. Plaintiffs filed a tort suit in a Nevada District Court. The district court dismissed, finding that the Georgia search and seizure did not establish a basis for personal jurisdiction in Nevada. The Ninth Circuit reversed, reasoning that Walden submitted the affidavit with the knowledge that it would affect persons with significant Nevada connections. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over Walden. The Due Process Clause limits state authority to bind a nonresident defendant to a judgment of its courts, requiring that the nonresident have “certain minimum contacts” with the forum state. For a state to exercise jurisdiction consistent with due process, a relationship must arise out of contacts that the defendant himself created with the forum itself, not with persons residing there. The plaintiff cannot be the only link between the defendant and the forum. Walden lacks those “minimal contacts” with Nevada. None of his conduct occurred in Nevada, and he formed no jurisdictionally relevant contacts with that forum. Mere injury to a forum resident is not a sufficient connection to the forum. The injury occurred in Nevada simply because that is where plaintiffs chose to be when they desired to use the seized funds. The Court also rejected an argument based on the origin of the funds. View "Walden v. Fiore" on Justia Law

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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. 960, contains a provision (section 9658) that preempts statutes of limitations applicable to state-law actions for personal injury or property damage arising from the release of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant into the environment. Section 9658 adopts the discovery rule, so that statutes of limitations begin to run when a plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, that the harm was caused by the contaminant because person who is exposed to a toxic contaminant may not develop or show signs of resulting injury for many years. CTS sold property on which it had stored chemicals as part its operations as an electronics plant; 24 years later, owners of parts of that property and adjacent landowners, sued, alleging damages from the stored contaminants. CTS moved to dismiss, citing a state statute of repose that prevented subjecting a defendant to a tort suit brought more than 10 years after the defendant’s last culpable act. Because CTS’s last act occurred when it sold the property, the district court granted the motion. The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the statute’s remedial purpose favored preemption. The Supreme Court reversed in part, concluding that section 9658 does not pre-empt state statutes of repose. Statutes of limitations promote justice by encouraging plaintiffs to pursue claims diligently and begin to run when a claim accrues. Statutes of repose effect a legislative judgment that a defendant should be free from liability after a legislatively determined amount of time and are measured from the date of the defendant’s last culpable actor omission. Under the language of the statute, pre-emption is characterized as an exception to the regular rule that the “the statute of limitations established under State law” applies; it is proper to conclude that Congress did not intend to preempt statutes of repose. View "CTS Corp. v. Waldburger" on Justia Law

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Walden, a Georgia police officer working as a DEA agent at a Georgia airport, searched plaintiffs and seized a large amount of cash. Plaintiffs claim that after they returned to their Nevada residence, Walden helped draft a false probable cause affidavit in support of forfeiture and forwarded it to a Georgia office of the U.S. Attorney. No forfeiture complaint was filed and the funds were returned. Plaintiffs filed a tort suit in a Nevada District Court. The district court dismissed, finding that the Georgia search and seizure did not establish a basis for personal jurisdiction in Nevada. The Ninth Circuit reversed, reasoning that Walden submitted the affidavit with the knowledge that it would affect persons with significant Nevada connections. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over Walden. The Due Process Clause limits state authority to bind a nonresident defendant to a judgment of its courts, requiring that the nonresident have “certain minimum contacts” with the forum state. For a state to exercise jurisdiction consistent with due process, a relationship must arise out of contacts that the defendant himself created with the forum itself, not with persons residing there. The plaintiff cannot be the only link between the defendant and the forum. Walden lacks those “minimal contacts” with Nevada. None of his conduct occurred in Nevada, and he formed no jurisdictionally relevant contacts with that forum. Mere injury to a forum resident is not a sufficient connection to the forum. The injury occurred in Nevada simply because that is where plaintiffs chose to be when they desired to use the seized funds. The Court also rejected an argument based on the origin of the funds. View "Walden v. Fiore" on Justia Law

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Using FOIA requests directed to the South Carolina DMV, attorneys obtained names and addresses, then sent letters to more than 34,000 individuals, seeking clients for a lawsuit against car dealerships for violation of a state law. The letters were headed “ADVERTISING MATERIAL,” explained the lawsuit, and asked recipients to return an enclosed card to participate in the case. Recipients sued the attorneys, alleging violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. 2721(b)(4), by obtaining, disclosing, and using personal information from motor vehicle records for bulk solicitation without express consent. The district court dismissed, based on a DPPA exception permitting disclosure of personal information "for use in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative, or arbitral proceeding," including "investigation in anticipation of litigation." The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. An attorney’s solicitation of clients is not a permissible purpose under the (b)(4) litigation exception. DPPA’s purpose of protecting privacy in motor vehicle records would be substantially undermined by application of the (b)(4) exception to the general ban on disclosure of personal information and ban on release of highly restricted personal information in cases there is any connection between protected information and a potential legal dispute. The Court noted examples of permissible litigation uses: service of process, investigation in anticipation of litigation, and execution or enforcement of judgments and orders. All involve an attorney’s conduct as an officer of the court, not a commercial actor, seeking a business transaction. A contrary reading of (b)(4) could affect interpretation of the (b)(6) exception, which allows an insurer and certain others to obtain DMV information for use in connection with underwriting, and the (b)(10) exception, which permits disclosure and use of personal information in connection with operation of private tollroads. View "Maracich v. Spears" on Justia Law