Some personal injury lawsuits are historically important and set important precedents which have a lasting effect on the legal landscape.
Personal injury lawsuits are often in the news, probably more so that the average person would like to see. Some of these lawsuits are more well-known than others for various reasons. Some of the more historic personal injury lawsuits (ones which had a significant impact on our laws) are identified and discussed blow.
Palsgraf v. Long Island RRIn this case, two men ran to catch a train while Mrs. Palsgraph stood on the platform of a Long Island Railroad train. The second man had a small package in his possession that contained fireworks; a platform guard along with a guard on the train helped him board the train. When he dropped the package, it exploded upon hitting the tracks. When the explosion occurred, the shock caused scales at the other end of the platform to fall which struck and injured Mrs. Palsgraph. The injury resulted in a personal injury lawsuit against Long Island Railroad which they appealed. After the judgment was affirmed on appeal, the railroad again appealed.
In order for an injured party to collect for personal injury damages, the party must have evidence to support its claim the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. In this case, the final determination was that Long Island Railroad did not owe a duty of care regarding the package. This standard would not have applied had Mrs. Palsgraf been injured if objects as fallen from a train as it passed by.
Falzone v. BuschThis lawsuit involves a near accident in which the plaintiff, Charles Falzone, was injured when he was hit as he stood in a field adjacent to the road. The accident resulted due to negligence on the part of the defendant.
Mabel Falzone, wife of Charles, was not injured by the impact of the crash, but as the car veered across the roadway in the direction of the car in which she was sitting, she felt fearful for her safety which caused her to need medical attention due to illness that resulted from her fear.
The state of New Jersey does not have any provision for collecting damages for bodily injury of sickness when there is no physical impact involved. New Jersey’s stand is that generally a person does not suffer illness as a result of fright.
Trimarco v. KleinIn the case of Trimarco vs. Klein, a glass tub enclosure shattered while the plaintiff was inside the tub, resulting in serious injuries.
The defendants in the lawsuit owned the building where the plaintiff was injured by the shattered glass, and they had not used shatterproof glass (as is common practice) but ordinary glass for the tub enclosure.
The question in this case is whether the actions of the defendants prove they failed to act appropriately under the circumstances. While the original court acted in favor of the plaintiff, the Appellate Division reversed that decision and dismissed the complaint.
Martin v. Herzog
The plaintiff in this case was killed when a car driven by the defendant struck his buggy. The defendant argued that the plaintiff’s buggy lacked lights and requested a ruling that showed this to be contributory negligence.
Setting aside the facts of the case, there is some question here of whether the plaintiff was at least partly at fault for the accident and his resulting death. It was dark, and there were no lights on the buggy which was clearly a violation of a statute.
While the trial court found in favor of the plaintiff, the appellate court reversed the decision which the plaintiff also appealed.
Negri v. Stop and ShopThe plaintiff, Negri, was shopping at the Stop and Shop store when he slipped and hit his head on the floor. In the area where Negri fell were a number of broken baby food jars that were both dirty and messy. A witness who was in the nearby area at the time heard nothing break or fall during the 15-20 minute period prior to Negri’s fall. In addition, no one had cleaned or inspected the area for 50 minutes to two hours before the accident occurred.
Even though the jury found in favor of Negri, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court dismissed the complaint.
This reversal was based on the fact the defendant provided evidence, though circumstantial, that showed the store provided sufficient notification of the hazardous condition. This evidence supports the stand that while a store has an obligation to protect its customers, they did not have cause for a lawsuit in cases where there is sufficient warning of hazardous situations.
Summers v. TiceThree hunters, Summers, Tice, and Somonson, were hunting quail when Tice flushed a quail, and it flew between the three hunters. Tice and Somonson fired their guns, accidentally hitting Summers in the eye and upper lip.
The evidence did not point to which one of the defendants actually fired the shot that hit Summers, so he filed a personal injury lawsuit against both hunters. Although the trial court found in favor of Summers, Tice and Somonson appealed on the basis there was not enough evidence to determine which one of them was the cause of Summer’s injuries. The appeals court upheld the ruling. This decision is the fairest one since it is impossible to determine how much damage each defendant caused and unfair for the injured party to be denied damages because of a lack of knowledge regarding which party caused the injuries to the plaintiff.
Sullivan v. DunhamIn 1895 a 19-year-old woman was traveling on a public highway located close to the village of Irvington in Westchester County when she was hit by a section of tree that had fallen on her after a blast had sent it flying more than four hundred feet. Dynamite was placed underneath a living elm tree and when it exploded, the impact shattered it and threw a section of the remaining stump 412 feet where the 19-year-old woman was traveling. The force of the impact was so severe the young woman died within just a few hours.
The lawsuit was initiated in order to recover damages for the next of kin for what was believed to be an act of wrongful death as a result of actions by the defendants. During the first trial a judgment was issued in the plaintiff’s favor but reversed on appeal because of errors in the ruling, but during the second trial the ruling was affirmed. In spite of the defendant’s appeal, the judgment was affirmed. Even though the act was legal and on private land, the fact that it cased an entry onto public land (the roadway) made it an issue of negligence.
Escola v. Coca ColaEscola, the plaintiff in this case worked as a waitress in a restaurant that served glass bottles of Coca-Cola. While putting those bottles away, one of them exploded in her hand for no apparent reason causing a deep five-inch cut that severed the nerves, blood vessels, and muscles in her thumb and palm of her hand. The top section of the bottle remained in her hand, but the lower portion fell on the floor without breaking. The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff who had called a Cola-Cola delivery driver to testify that he had seen this kind of thing happen with bottles he the warehouse.
The court examined the record and determined there was nothing to support the possibility the restaurant did anything to cause the bottle to break after it was delivered from the manufacturer. They ruled the bottle itself was defective at the time the defendant delivered it to the restaurant since bottles of carbonated liquids that are properly prepared simply do not explode when they are handled carefully.
Soule v. General MotorsThe plaintiff in this case was traveling in a northbound direction in her Camaro when a southbound Datsun hit her left front wheel. The incident caused the wheel to collapse to the rear while also crushing the toe pan into the passenger area. The accident broke both her ankles and led to the development of permanent problems that are expected to worsen over time. The plaintiff believed the collapse of the wheel was caused by a defect in the manufacturing process and defective design in the placement of the bracket and the way the frame was configured.
The trial jury awarded the plaintiff $1.65 million, an amount the Court of Appeals affirmed. General Motors argued under appeal that the court was wrong in its decision because of it was a complex design-defect case. It also failed to provide General Motors any special instruction on the cause of the problem. The court felt there would have been no difference in the end result in spite of the improper instruction.