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Archive for the ‘General Liability’ Category

Beware The Egg Shell Plaintiff

Posted on: February 13th, 2018

By: Jared K. Hodges

Recently, a jury from a historically conservative venue in Georgia awarded $2.7 million to a man who claims he was injured in a 4 m.p.h. rear-end collision. This unusual verdict should serve as an expensive reminder to insurance carriers, adjusters, and their counsel that not all low-speed, minor property damage incidents are alike.

Plaintiff Art Smith was 31 years-old when he was rear-ended in his Toyota Camry by John Bishop, who was driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck. Both Smith and Bishop were stopped at a traffic light in Cobb County, Georgia, when Bishop testified he “rolled into” Smith. Smith’s vehicle incurred merely $1,400 worth of damage, and he told the responding officers he was OK, before leaving the scene of the accident on his own.

The next day, however, Smith began experiencing stiffness in his neck, and he went to the emergency room. Smith underwent physical therapy and an MRI scan that revealed herniated discs in his neck, before he ultimately received cervical fusion surgery.

While Smith’s rapid spinal deterioration and treatment seems excessive given his young age, what Bishop could not have known, was Smith had undergone prior treatments for neck injuries several years before the accident. In Georgia, as in many jurisdictions, it is a tenant in torts that “a tortfeasor takes a plaintiff in whatever condition he finds him. A negligent actor must bear the risk that his liability will be increased by reason of the actual physical condition of the other toward whom his act [is] negligent.” AT Sys. Se., Inc. v. Carnes, 272 Ga. App. 671, 674, 613 S.E.2d 150 (2005). As the Smith case shows, the egg shell plaintiff is alive and well.

So many claimants and plaintiffs contend they are “egg shell plaintiffs,” it is easy for adjusters and defense counsel to become immune to these allegations, especially when there is minimal property damage, as there was in this case. Yet, insurers, adjusters, and defense counsel should remember that a tortfeasor takes a plaintiff in the condition where he finds him. If, for example, a plaintiff has a history of neck injuries that makes his neck susceptible to injury, it is possible a jury could find the defendant responsible for all subsequent neck treatments, even from an apparently minor injury-causing incident.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jared K. Hodges at [email protected]

Waymo v. Uber – Addressing the Stakes of Driverless Car Trade Secrets and Intellectual Property

Posted on: February 12th, 2018

By: Courtney K. Mazzio

The litigation surrounded a man named Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee who took thousands of documents with him when he left Waymo in 2015 to pursue his own company. Uber purchased Levandowski’s company, giving Levandowski the lead role in its efforts to get their self-driving vehicle technology off the ground. At issue in the lawsuit between Uber and Waymo was the lidar laser sensor, which Levandowski had helped develop while at Waymo. In short, this technology measures distance to a target, and so, is used in the control and navigation of self-driving cars. As you might imagine, this technology in the infancy of the driverless car development was a highly coveted piece of intellectual property.

Settlement talks were initially in the billions, but the final figure was 245 million, or 0.34 percent of Uber’s current company valuation. The agreement also includes a provision to insure Waymo’s confidential information is not incorporated into Uber technology.

This settlement not only protects Uber’s driverless car momentum in their race to be the first taxi service to successfully utilize the technology at a relatively cheap price, but also maintains Waymo’s position at the forefront of the self-driving technology. To insure this position enjoys longevity, employees of Waymo can expect they will likely be tightening its control and security over confidential information and property developed within its walls.

If you have any questions or would like some more information, please contact Courtney Mazzio at [email protected].

Driverless Motor Vehicle Lawsuit – The First of its Kind

Posted on: February 7th, 2018

By: Courtney K. Mazzio

General Motors is the first manufacturer to be hit with a driverless motor vehicle lawsuit. On December 7, motorcycle driver, Oscar Nilsson, alleges he was attempting to pass a self-automated Chevy Bolt on the right. The Bolt had indicated it was moving into the left hand lane, and according to Nilsson, when the coast was clear, he proceeded in his attempt to pass the Bolt. It was at that point the Bolt swerved back into Nilsson’s lane, knocking Nilsson over. Nilsson did walk to the side of the road, but was complaining of neck and shoulder injuries, which he allegedly treated for extensively and which required him to take disability leave from his job.

However, GM paints quite a different picture, detailing that the self-driving car attempted to merge into the left lane. However, the minivan ahead of it slowed down, and so the self-driving car abandoned the merge attempt. GM maintains it was as the self-driving car was attempting to center itself in the middle lane once again that Nilsson attempted to pass between the self-driving vehicle and a vehicle in the right lane. As he was attempting to make that pass, he hit the side of the self-driving vehicle. Notably, GM reported the self-driving car was keeping with traffic at its speed of 12 miles per hour while the motorcycle was traveling 17 miles per hour, which if proven, could be useful for them in mitigating liability They have also represented that the police report also maintains the company is at fault.

In the analysis swirling around driverless car technology and anticipated lawsuits sure to crop up, there is anticipation that car manufacturers will take the tack of either resolving swiftly when liability is poor or fighting tooth and nail when liability is questionable. The technology of the driverless vehicle no doubt affords car manufacturers the ability to be a bit more dichotomous. We will have to wait and see how this one pans out.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Courtney Mazzio at [email protected].

Landowner Scope of Duty

Posted on: January 11th, 2018

By: Owen T. Rooney

The California Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that limits the scope of duty and liability in premises liability cases. In  Vasilenko v. Grace Community Church, plaintiff was struck by a car as he crossed a public street, at night in the rain, between the main premises of a church and the church’s overflow parking area. Plaintiff alleged that the church owed him a duty of care to assist him in safely crossing the public street. The court ruled “that a landowner does not have a duty to assist invitees in crossing a public street when the landowner does no more than site and maintain a parking lot that requires invitees to cross the street to access the landowner’s premises, so long as the street’s dangers are not obscured or magnified by some condition of the landowner’s premises or by some action taken by the landowner.”

The court was motivated in part by the lack of control the church has over the public roadway, and in part by “the possibility that finding a duty in this case will cause some or perhaps many landowners to stop providing parking…. By providing parking, a landowner may decrease its invitees’ risk of injury from other dangers of the road as compared to invitees finding their own parking on the streets.”

This case should limit liability in cases where plaintiff tries to stretch the landowner’s “property lines” to conditions off the property.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Owen Rooney at [email protected].

UPS Orders Tesla Electric Big Rigs – One Step Closer to Driverless Semis

Posted on: December 22nd, 2017

By: Wayne S. Melnick

Last month, Tesla Motors announced that it was taking its electronic vehicle technology one step further with the unveiling of the Electric Semi Truck .  If the numbers are to be believed, the Tesla Semi not only achieves 0-60 in five seconds (unloaded) by also reduces the cost of shipping from $1.51/mile to $1.26/mile.

Earlier this week, United Parcel Service announced it was going all-in on the Tesla Semi ordering 125 of the new units.   At an estimated cost between $150,000-$200,000/unit, that order could be worth as much as $25M.  (Yes, 25 Million Dollars).  If you’ve been following this story, this is not the end of the line, but rather, just the beginning. With that big an investment, it is clear that UPS and Tesla have their eyes on the future.  Electronic Trucks are just the first steps towards what is expected to the ultimate goal: Driverless Semis.

We will continue to keep watch of developments of this technology.  Needless to say, the idea of Driverless Semis raises all sorts of legal and insurance questions.  As such, it is important to stay on top of developments and FMG will continue to keep you informed as they occur.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please contact Wayne Melnick at [email protected].