Saturday, March 31, 2018

Comment on issues and unanswered questions related to autonomous cars

I am sure you have heard by now about an Uber autonomous car killed a pedestrian in Arizona.  The accident was called the first fatality caused by such a vehicle.  At the time Uber was experimenting with autonomous cars in Arizona.  Soon after the accident, the company announced it was terminating the experiment - at least for now.

I have blogged about issues related to autonomous cars before and about some of the possible questions that we will inevitably have to deal with in the near future as accidents begin to happen.  Go here, here and here.

Now comes news that Uber confidentially compensated the family of the pedestrian killed by its robot car.  That was quick and it evidently prevented the publicity that would have resulted from discovery if a lawsuit had been filed. 

But the issues and unanswered questions remain.  This might have been the first pedestrian death caused by an autonomous car, but unfortunately, it is not likely to be be the last.

Which brings me to the comment posted at The Pop Tort addressing some of the issues and questions related to this new topic in Tort law.  You should go and read it here.

Court holds coffee manufacturers must add a cancer warning label in California

Smithsonian magazine is reporting that coffee companies in California may soon be required to display a warning label alerting customers to a possible carcinogen in their brews.  Coffee contains acrylamide, which is on California’s list of chemicals that require a warning.  The ABA Journal also has the story (and more links) here

On the other hand, it has been reported that drinking coffee helps decrease the risk of many cancers.  I have a feeling this is not the last we will hear of this controversy.

Kentucky enacts law to make it more difficult for plaintiffs to recover for black lung disease

A measure signed into law in Kentucky this past week would prevent federally-certified radiologists from judging X-rays in state black lung compensation claims, leaving diagnoses of the disease mostly to physicians who typically work for coal companies.

This is outrageous.  Whether a person should be allowed to appear as an expert in a case should be left to the application of the rules of procedure and evidence.  What the legislature has done here is simply interfere with the process in order to favor defendants. 

You can read the full story here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Injured Spectator vs The Chicago Cubs; Will This Be the Case That Establishes a New Rule? -- UPDATED

October 17, 2017
Readers of this blog probably saw the news that a baseball fan has sued the Chicago Cubs seeking compensation for the loss of sight in his left eye after he was hit by a foul ball during a Cubs game earlier this year.  This question has been litigated many times in many jurisdictions and, as it stands right now, the law favors baseball stadium owners.

In most cases, the discussion of the courts has focused on either whether the defendants have a duty to the spectator or whether the spectator assumed the risk of injury by choosing to sit close to the field.  Often, whether the issue is defined as the former or the latter, court and commentary refer to the analysis as one involving "the baseball rule," which is really a reference to the result of the application of the analysis. The case against the Cubs is different, however, because in Illinois, there is a specific statute that limits the possible liability of baseball stadium owners.

I wrote a short comment on this a few days ago in The John Marshall Law School Law Review blog.  You can read it here.

UPDATE (3-21-18):  Earlier this month, the court dismissed the claim against the Cubs but allowed the case to proceed against Major League Baseball.  The Chicago Daily Bulletin has the story.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

On the difficult to understand distinction between negligence and recklessness

I have often argued that the distinction between negligence and recklessness is difficult to understand.  True, on paper we can express a definition that supports and distinction between the two concepts.  For example, in New Jersey, “recklessness, unlike negligence, requires a conscious choice of a course of action, with knowledge or a reason to know that it will create serious danger to others.”   Yet, as is often the case, in practice this type of definition (and attempt to distinguish from negligence) is difficult to apply, as a recent case from New Jersey illustrates.

As reported in Golf Dispute Resolution, in this case the plaintiff asked the defendant to show him how to properly hit a golf ball. The plaintiff then said ‘All right, get back.’ He then set up a golf ball on a tee and explained how to set up properly to the ball, how to hold the club and how to start the swing. The plaintiff testified that he thought the defendant had moved back enough that he would not be in harms way, but did not confirm this visually before swinging the club.  Unfortunately, the plaintiff was not out of harms way, and when the defendant swung the club, he struck the plaintiff in the face causing severe injuries.

On these facts, the trial court determined that the defendant’s actions, at most, constituted negligence, requiring that the case against him be dismissed, which in my opinion, was the correct decision.  Often, states require a showing of recklessness in cases involving sports injuries and the conduct in this case does not sound to me to fit the definition of recklessness cited above.

The appellate court disagreed holding that the judge erroneously usurped the role of the factfinder by making findings of fact and liability in matters in dispute between the parties.

I disagree, on these facts, a judge could easily have concluded (in response to a motion to dismiss) that reasonable people would not disagree that the evidence presented did not support a finding of recklessness.

Instead, the court of appeals held that there exists a material fact in dispute concerning whether the defendant "made appropriate observations prior to swinging the golf club consonant with the attendant risk of significant injury to a bystander."

And there is the problem:  saying that we have to decide whether someone "made appropriate observations prior to swinging the golf club consonant with the attendant risk of significant injury to a bystander" is a long way of saying whether the actor acted unlike a reasonable person would have under the circumstances, which is, of course, the standard of negligence.

In other words, the court decided that holding the case was a negligence claim was wrong, but then remanded so the jury could decide the case based on applying a negligence standard.

The case is called Spataro v The Stakemaster and you can read it here.