Sunday, January 26, 2020

Alabama Supreme Court to decide whether suicide is a superseding cause

Long time readers of this blog know that I have posted many stories on issues related to claims of injuries related to suicide; and one of the most common issues is the question of whether someone's decision to commit suicide should be considered to be a superseding cause that eliminates the possible cause of action against a defendant whose alleged conduct resulted in the suicide.  I recently wrote about this here (discussing Arizona law) and here (Tennessee law).

The issue is now back in the news because a federal court in Alabama recently ruled that a tort case brought by the parents of a woman who killed herself against the man she said sexually assaulted her should be stayed pending the Alabama Supreme Court’s answer of whether suicide is an intervening cause that breaks the chain of causation stemming from a defendant’s intentional tort.  The court's decision is available here.

For all my posts related to suicide cases, go here and scroll down.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Judge Determines Johnson & Johnson Should Be Required to Pay $6.8M in Punitive Damage For Failing to Warn About Risperdal Risks

In a ruling issued last week, the judge presiding over a product liability action against Johnson & Johnson, reduced the award of punitive damages granted by the jury to $6.8 million, which is 10 times the amount of compensatory damages which is generally held to be the upper threshold for punitive damage awards that are constitutionally permitted.  The jury had originally awarded $8 billion in punitive damages.  Go here for more details on this story.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Should a public defender be protected by a state torts immunity act?

Just a few days ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that should be called Chaparro Nieves v. Office of the Public Defender (but is being mistakenly identified as Nieves v. Office of the Public Defender)** in which the Court has been asked to decide whether the Office of the Public Defender should be covered by the state's Torts Claims Act.

In this case, the plaintiff had been incarcerated for twelve years on serious charges, including first-degree aggravated sexual assault, when the charges against him were dismissed on his petition for post-conviction relief.  At some point thereafter, he filed a legal malpractice complaint against the public defender's office and an individual lawyer.  The trial judge denied defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the legal malpractice claim but the Appellate Division reversed, holding, among other things, that it is clear that the office of the public defender is a public entity and public defenders are public employees that come within the Tort Claims Act’s immunities and defenses.  You can read that opinion here.

The case is now before the Supreme Court where Professor George W. Conk, of the Louis Stein Center for Law & Ethics at Fordham University School of Law, argued on behalf of the New Jersey State Bar Association urging the Court to affirm the Appellate Division’s decision to apply the TCA to legal malpractice claims.  The Bar Association's statement concludes that "[c]ompetent criminal defense lawyers should not be deterred from public service by the prospect of ruinous awards and defense costs. Without the defense and indemnification assured by the Tort Claims Act the interests of both PDs and those with just claims against them are ill served."

You can read the full statement of the Bar Association here.

** I say the case "should be called" that because I have seen it referred to everywhere as just Nieves v.  Office of the Public Defender, which shows ignorance about the use of two last names in the Latin American tradition.  The plaintiff's name is Antonio Chaparro, not Antonio Nieves.  But that is just a pet peeve of mine and I will leave it at that.