Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Do you remember Katko v Briney (the spring gun case)? Here is the lawyer who represented the defendant!

Way back when you took Torts, your probably read a case discussing whether a property owner can "defend" property from trespassers by using a spring gun.  The case is in every Torts casebook I have reviewed, and Prosser's even has a photo of the defendant.

In any case, the defendant's lawyer was interviewed recently and you can read the interview  here.  The 93-year-old just retired after 66 years of practice.  His reaction when Katko came to him with the case:  "Damn, this will be fun."

Thanks to the TortsProf blog for the link.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Idaho Supreme Court holds criminal defendant does not have to show actual innocence in malpractice claim against former defense attorney

Just about a year ago I reported (here) that the two most recent decisions on whether a convicted criminal defendant had to prove actual innocence in order to recover for malpractice against his or her former lawyer had broken away from the majority view on the issue.  A few months later, however, the Washington State Supreme Court reversed the trend by adhering to the majority view and holding that a criminal defendant must establish actual innocence to sue the defense attorney for malpractice.

Now comes news that last week the Idaho Supreme Court has abandoned the actual innocence rule in a case called Molen v. Christian.  In part, the court concluded:
We hold that actual innocence is not an element of a criminal malpractice cause of action. Requiring a criminal malpractice plaintiff to prove actual innocence is contrary to the fundamental principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, a criminal defendant can be harmed separately from the harm he or she incurs as a result of being guilty of a crime. . . .  Additionally, as a practical matter, requiring actual innocence would essentially eliminate a defense attorney’s duty to provide competent counsel to a client he or she knows to be guilty. For the foregoing reasons, we hold that actual innocence is not an element of a criminal malpractice cause of action.
This means that three of the last four jurisdictions to consider the issue have rejected the majority approach, which makes me wonder if what is the majority has now shifted.  I have not done a state by state survey recently, so I don't know for sure.  However, I have not read anyone make that claim yet, so I assume the majority approach is still to require a showing of actual innocence.  If someone has information about the actual count of how many states follow each approach, please let me know. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

IL Supreme Court to decide whether fraternity should be liable for injuries to student sufferes injuries after becoming intoxicated at fraternity event

Should the officers, pledge board members of a fraternity or the fraternity itself be liable for the death of a student who becomes intoxicated, loses consciousness, and ultimately dies while participating in a social event at a college fraternity? 

The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to decide the question as presented in a case called Bogenberger v. Pi Kappa Alpha Corporation.

Like most states, Illinois does not recognize "social host liability" in most cases, but it does recognize possible liability under a statute called the Anti-Hazing Act which recognizes possible liability when the victim is required to drink to intoxication to become a member of a club or organization.

For more details on the case and the issues presented, go to The Appellate Strategist.

Monday, January 23, 2017

New study concludes what we knew already: "stronger" med mal laws do not result in better care

A new study from Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine has concluded that stronger medical malpractice laws do not translate to better care.  The TortsProf blog has a link here. This, of course, is not news to anyone who has followed the issues related to med mal law and the attempts to "reform" it.  There are multiple articles and books that discuss the evidence that debunks the myth of a med mal crisis and the need to eliminate the rights of injured victims to recover for their injuries.  For more on the subject you can go the section on medical malpractice on this blog and scroll down.  You will find many stories, links and information on the subject.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Alabama Supreme Court reaffirms ruling that recognized a cause of action for the wrongful death of a fetus before viability, adopting view that fetus is a "person" from moment of conception

The Alabama Supreme Court recently unanimously reaffirmed its 2011 ruling that recognized a cause of action for the wrongful death of an embryo even before it was a viable fetus.  In this case, the mother lost her pregnancy during the first trimester, which means the embryo would not classify as "viable," the most common classification used by jurisdiction to determine whether a cause of action for pre natal wrongful death should be recognized.  The case is called Stinnett v Kennedy and you can find a copy here.

The issue of whether to recognize a wrongful death cause of action is not new and many jurisdiction have addressed it.  Yet there are three different approaches to it.  Some recognize a cause of action for wrongful death regardless of the level of development of the fetus at the time of the accident. Typically, it is said these jurisdictions recognize the cause of action from the moment of conception.  Illinois, for example, follows this approach in its wrongful death statute.  Other jurisdictions do not recognize a wrongful death claim for pre natal death at all, finding that for there to be death there has to be life and life begins when the fetus actually survives (however briefly) independently of the mother.  But, the most common approach is to hold that a cause of action should be recognized from the moment when it can be argued the fetus is "viable," meaning from the moment the fetus could survive independently of the mother.

Back in 2011, the Alabama Supreme Court recognized the cause of action in in part by making reference to a state criminal statute law that recognizes homicide of a person to apply to a fetus, regardless of viability.  (This reminds of a scene in an old episode of the popular TV show Law & Order, which addressed whether the law could be interpreted to say that very thing in a state that did not have such a statute.)  The reference seems relevant since wrongful death statutes usually refer to the death of a "person" so courts have to define at what point someone "becomes" a person.  In Alabama, the statute states it applies to the death of a "minor child" but does not define "minor child."

But back to the new case...  So, since 2011, Alabama recognizes wrongful death claims for the death of a fetus since conception.  The issue in the new case, however, challenged the Court's reliance on the criminal statute which is a different question.

The criminal statute recognizes an exception for unintentional "mistakes" by doctors.  This means that doctors can not be prosecuted criminally for unintentional conduct that results in the death of a fetus.  In other words, the legislature decided not to recognize the criminal prosecution of negligent conduct.

Based on this exception to the criminal statute, the defendant in the case argued that since the statute upon which the civil case seems to be based does not recognize criminal liability for negligence, it would be inconsistent to recognize a civil cause of action for the same conduct.

The Court, however, rejected the argument.  The argument would make sense if the Court had recognized the cause of action based on the criminal statute using a "negligence per se" type analysis.  In such a case, it would be inconsistent to impose what could be "ruinous liability" for conduct that legislature did not consider bad enough to impose criminal liability for it.  But that is not the type of analysis upon which the court based its conclusion.  The Court looked to the statute, not as an expression of a duty in tort law, but merely for guidance to define the word "person."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Connecticut rejects Restatement 3d- Products Liability

In what some are calling the most important Connecticut tort-law decision in decades, last month the Connecticut Supreme Court declined to adopt the Restatement (Third)'s approach to product liability design-defect claims and “reaffirm[ed] its allegiance” to a “true strict liability” standard under §402A of the Restatement (Second).  The case is called Bifolck v. Philip Morris, Inc. (Deb 29, 2016).  The TortsProf Blog has more on the story here. Connecticut is thus the most recent of a number of states to have rejected the Restatement 3d's approach. 

Article on the proposed repeal of the ACA and the rights of injured patients to recover for injuries

Joanne Doroshow. Executive Director or the Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School, has published a short article on the connection between the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and tort reform efforts to deprived injured patients of their rights to recover for their injuries.

Ralph Nader on Tort Reform

Here is a recent 10 minute interview with Ralph Nader on "tort reform."