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Posts Tagged ‘#lawsuit’

Multi-Million Dollar California Verdict Affirmed Despite Questionable Causation

Posted on: March 6th, 2018

By: Theodore C. Peters

Image result for car accidentProof of causation is a frequently debated topic in tort cases where the battle between “possible” and “probable” is bitterly fought.  Tort victims are left empty-handed unless they can sufficiently demonstrate the causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the harm that befell them.  Speculation or conjecture is insufficient; a plaintiff must prove more.  But how much more, and where is the line drawn when there is no direct evidence supporting a causal connection and where it is equally plausible that the defendant’s act or omission did not cause the harm in question?  The California court of appeal, In Dunlap v. Folsom Lake Ford, recently provided some guidance.

In Dunlap, the plaintiff suffered personal injuries while driving a truck that flipped after its steering allegedly locked up.  The defendant car dealership admitted that a previous owner complained of similar steering problems, and there was evidence that the dealership had diagnosed a problem with worn ball joints, but denied that this was  the cause of the accident.  Rather, the defendant asserted that the accident occurred after the truck and the van it was towing jackknifed when the van suffered a blow out.  Prior to the litigation, the insurers took action to destroy both the truck and the van for salvage, so the parties’ experts were unable to physically inspect the vehicles and instead were limited to photographs which were admitted into evidence.  The photographs were inconclusive and the parties’ experts thus offered competing opinions of their respective interpretation of this evidence.

The defense accident reconstruction expert opined that, as a consequence of the jackknifing vehicles the truck was forcefully pushed, resulting in the equivalent of a PIT (police-intervention technique) maneuver which pushed the truck into a counterclockwise spin causing the accident.  In contrast, the plaintiff’s expert testified that “it was ‘more likely true than not’ that the worn-out ball joints caused the accident, and it was ‘not at all’ a close call.  In his opinion, if the ball joints had been replaced, ‘we would not be here today.’”  The court also noted that “[t]here was evidence that a particular defect (worn ball joints) was present in the truck, and that [the dealer] was aware the ball joints could cause steering lock and needed to be replaced but failed to replace them or verbally advise the owner to do so.”

The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded over $7.4M in damages.  On appeal, the dealership claimed that, because there was no physical evidence that could confirm plaintiff’s expert’s opinion, plaintiff’s evidence as to causation was speculative and plaintiff’s expert should not have been permitted to testify that the ball joints were worn sufficiently to prevent steering.  In finding that the record supported a finding of causation based on non-speculative evidence, the court stated: “Expert testimony on causation can enable a plaintiff’s case to go to the jury only if it establishes a reasonably probable causal connection between the act and the injury… A possible cause only becomes “probable” when, in the absence of other reasonable causal explanations, it becomes more likely than not that the injury was a result of its action.  This is the outer limit of inference upon which an issue may be submitted to the jury.”  The appellate court concluded that substantial evidence supported the jury’s finding of causation, and affirmed the judgment.

The Dunlap opinion is consistent with a growing body of case law that favors letting juries decide issues of questionable causation where the proof satisfies a “more likely than not” standard.  While mere speculation and conjecture are certainly not enough, circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences that can be drawn from such evidence are sufficient proof of causation to support a jury verdict.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters 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].

“Yer Out!” United States Supreme Court Tosses 4th Pro Se in Forma Pauperis Request Holding that “Three Strikes” Provision Includes Cases Dismissed by a District Court and Pending on Appeal

Posted on: May 20th, 2015

153902607By: Andy Treese and Charles Reed, Jr.

When Congress codified citizens’ access to courts regardless of their ability to pay costs, federal courts quickly became inundated with prisoner lawsuits.  Congress, in turn, enacted the “three strikes” provision in 28 U. S. C. §1915(g) which provides that “in no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding [in forma pauperis] if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while  incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.” The United States Supreme Court held in Coleman v. Tollefson, 575 U.S. ___ (2015) that the “three strikes” includes cases dismissed by a district court and pending on appeal.

In Coleman, the plaintiff brought three federal lawsuits during his incarceration that had been dismissed on grounds enumerated in §1915(g). Following the appeal of his third dismissal, but before the appellate court’s ruling on that appeal, Coleman filed four new federal lawsuits between April 2010 and January 2011, and moved to proceed in forma pauperis in each one. The district court denied each of Coleman’s four in forma pauperis requests holding that “a dismissal counts as a strike even if it is pending on appeal at the time that the plaintiff files his new action.” The Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court and denied Coleman’s requests, albeit on different grounds.  The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve whether a dismissal of an in forma pauperis request on a statutorily enumerated ground counts as a strike while an appeal of that dismissal remains pending.  The Supreme Court held that it does.

The Court summarily rejected Coleman’s argument for an expansion of the word “dismissed” in the statute to include appellate activity by citing to the plain language of the statute, treatment of the word “dismissed” in case law and an analysis of congressional intent within the statute from a linguistic and practical matter.  The Court acknowledged that while there was a risk that a litigant that might find themselves wrongfully deprived of in forma pauperis status, that risk was “not great” since there were various remedies to ameliorate any adverse effects of the deprivation within the existing Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Serial litigants who file numerous frivolous in forma pauperis lawsuits waste defendants’ resources, the court’s time and impede the prompt resolution of cases.  As those litigants begin to feel the impact of this decision, the benefit to the judicial system will be felt through the weeding out of meritless claims.