Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Injury Law

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Ramara engaged Sentry as a general contractor to perform work at its Philadelphia parking garage. Sentry engaged a subcontractor, Fortress, to install concrete and steel components. As required by its agreement with Sentry, Fortress obtained a general liability insurance policy from Westfield naming Ramara as an additional insured. In April 2012, Axe, a Fortress employee, was injured in an accident. Axe filed a tort action against Ramara and Sentry but did not include Fortress as a defendant as it was immune from actions by its employees if they were entitled to compensation for their injuries under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. Ramara tendered its defense to Westfield, which declined to defend, claiming that Axe’s complaint did not include allegations imposing that obligation under its policy. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Ramara, and later entered a second order, a quantified judgment against Westfield for Ramara’s counsel fees and costs incurred to date. The Third Circuit first held that the district court lacked jurisdiction to alter its first order with respect to the aspects of that order already on appeal. The court affirmed that Westfield has a duty to defend Ramara in the underlying Axe action. View "Ramara Inc v. Westfield Ins. Co" on Justia Law

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Morris worked as a coal miner for nearly 35 years, 19 years underground. Morris’s breathing difficulties caused him to leave work. In 2006, Dr. Cohen diagnosed him with pneumoconiosis (black lung disease). Eighty Four Mining’s physician also examined Morris, but determined that Morris’s breathing difficulties were caused by smoking and that there was no radiographic evidence of pneumoconiosis. In 2008, aPennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Judge denied benefits. Morris did not appeal. Morris’s breathing problems worsened; a doctor put him on oxygen nearly full-time. In 2011, Morris sought Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901, benefits. He did not rely upon the 2006 report that had been discredited, but on a 2011 arterial blood gas study and pulmonary function testing that supported a finding of black lung disease. In 2013, an ALJ granted BLBA benefits, rejecting a timeliness challenge and reasoning that a denial of black lung benefits due to the repudiation of the claimant’s pneumoconiosis diagnosis renders that diagnosis a “misdiagnosis” and resets the three-year limitations period for subsequent claims. Morris sufficiently established the existence of pneumoconiosis through medical evidence obtained after 2010 and Eighty Four failed to adequately explain why Morris’s years of coal dust exposure were not a substantial cause of his impairment. The Benefits Review Board affirmed, citing judicial estoppel as precluding the timeliness argument. The Third Circuit denied a petition for review. View "Eighty Four Mining Co. v. Morris" on Justia Law

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Brand developed Thermablaster, a vent-free heater, to be manufactured by a Chinese company, Reecon. Reecon suggested using Intertek testing to ensure the heaters met U.S. safety standards. Brand spoke with Intertek representatives and visited the company’s website to ensure that Intertek could test to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. Satisfied that Intertek’s China facility had the necessary expertise, Brand allowed Reecon to use Intertek for testing against the most recent applicable ANSI standard. The $22,000 testing cost was part of the per-unit price. Ace Hardware agreed to pay Brand $467,000 for 3,980 Thermablasters. Brand visited China to monitor production. Reecon gave Brand an Intertek document signed by its engineers, showing that the heaters had passed all relevant tests. Brand bought 5,500 heaters and delivered them to Ace. Ace began selling the heaters in 2011 but halted sales permanently after learning from a competitor that they did not meet ANSI standards. Ace obtained a default judgment of $611,060 against Brand. Brand sued Intertek. Intertek countersued, alleging trademark infringement because Brand had placed Intertek’s testing certification mark on boxes before receiving permission. Intertek bought Ace’s judgment against Brand for $250,000 and aggressively tried to collect before trial. The Third Circuit affirmed a verdict finding Intertek liable to Brand for negligent misrepresentation and awarding Brand $1,045,000 in compensatory and $5 million in punitive damages. View "Brand Mktg. Grp. LLC v. Intertek Testing Servs. NA" on Justia Law

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Juanya, age 15, participated in a mandatory swimming class run by his physical education teacher, Rodgers. Juanya, a non-swimmer, was submerged for a few seconds, possibly inhaling or swallowing water. Juanya exited the pool and told Rodgers that his chest hurt. Rodgers told Juanya to sit on the bleachers. Several minutes later, Rodgers went over to check on Juanya, who requested to remain out of the pool for the rest of class. Rodgers denied the request. Juanya followed instructions and stayed in the shallow end for the remainder of the period. In his next class, nearly an hour and a half after leaving the pool, Juanya fell backward and hit the desk behind him. As he rolled off his chair and onto the floor, he had a seizure. A school nurse attempted to revive Juanya. Paramedics took Juanya by ambulance to a hospital, where he died that day, apparently of a rare form of asphyxiation called “dry” or “secondary drowning.” Juanya’s mother sued Rodgers and the Bethlehem Area School District, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Rodgers moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, which the court denied. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that Rodgers’s conduct did not violate a clearly established constitutional right, View "Spady v. Bethlehem Area Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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More than 200 foreign agricultural workers allege they were exposed to the pesticide DBCP on banana farms throughout Central America, in the 1960s through the 1980s, resulting in health problems. Litigation began in 1993 with a putative class against Dole and related companies in Texas state court. Numerous suits were filed (and consolidated) in 2011 in the Eastern District of Louisiana against Dole and others. The court agreed granted Dole summary judgment based on the statute of limitations; the Fifth Circuit affirmed. Meanwhile, in 2012, several actions were filed in the District of Delaware against the same defendants and alleging the same causes of action. Dole moved to dismiss the Delaware lawsuits, arguing for the application of the first-filed rule. The court held that the rule applied while the case was on appeal to the Fifth Circuit and dismissed, reasoning that “one fair bite at the apple is sufficient.” Delaware subsequently dismissed other defendants. The Third Circuit affirmed: where there is federal concurrent jurisdiction over a matter, “the court which first ha[d] possession of the subject must decide it.” Plaintiffs conceded that the Delaware cases were “materially identical” to those previously filed in Louisiana. Concurrent jurisdiction existed at the time. View "Chavez v. Dole Food Co., Inc" on Justia Law

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Clash is best known as the voice of Sesame Street’s Elmo. Stephens and Clash met in 2004 when Stephens was 16 years old and Clash was 44. Stephens claims Clash was immediately interested in a sexual relationship and arranged by telephone to have Stephens transported from Pennsylvania to New York City by chauffeured car. They engaged in a “pattern of sexual activity . . . over a period of years.” Although he was “a compliant victim showered with attention and affection,” Stephens contends that he “did not become aware that he had suffered adverse psychological and emotional effects” until 2011. Stephens also claimed that Clash “compelled [Stephens] to engage in sexual contacts by intellectual, emotional and psychological force.” Stephens filed suit in 2013, nine years after the relationship began, and seven years after Stephens turned 18, alleging claims under 18 U.S.C. 2255(a) and sexual battery under state law. The court dismissed the claims as untimely, applying the discovery rule; the complaint demonstrated that he “discovered or should have discovered his injury in or before July 2006.” The Third Circuit affirmed. Given that section 2255 creates a cause of action only for violations occurring while the victim was a minor, Clash’s sexual relationship with Stephens was not actionable after 2006. View "Stephens v. Clash" on Justia Law

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Zierle was driving and rear-ended Wolfe. Zierle’s blood alcohol level tested at 0.25%. Zierle had three prior DUIs. Wolfe required treatment at the emergency room. Zierle was insured by Allstate. Zierle’s policy stated that Allstate would not defend an insured for damages not covered by the policy. Zierle’s policy excluded coverage for punitive damages. Wolfe made a settlement demand of $25,000. Allstate counteroffered $1200. Wolfe filed suit. Allstate informed Zierle that he could face damages above the $50,000 policy limit and would be personally liable for the excess. During discovery, Wolfe learned of the extent of Zierle’s intoxication and added a claim for punitive damages. During settlement conferences, judges placed a value of $7500 on the compensatory damage claim. After trial, Allstate paid $15,000 in compensatory damages, but not a $50,000 punitive damages award. Zierle assigned his rights against Allstate to Wolfe, who sued, alleging breach of contract; bad faith; and violation of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices Consumer Protection Law. The court denied Allstate’s motions for summary judgment, which argued that, since it had no duty to indemnify for punitive damages, it was not required to consider potential punitive damages when deciding whether to settle and that indemnification for punitive damages was impermissible under Pennsylvania law. The jury found violation of Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute and breach of contract; it awarded no compensatory damages, but $50,000 in punitive damages. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for a new trial at which Wolfe will be barred from introducing evidence of the punitive damages award, affirming the denials of summary judgment. View "Wolfe v. Allstate Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Around midnight, 15-year old Tabitha had a severe asthma attack at her North Philadelphia home. Her mother, Vargas, called 911. Waiting for the paramedics to arrive, Vargas went outside and found Tabitha lying on the sidewalk, gasping for air. She quickly lapsed into unconsciousness. Tabitha’s cousin unsuccessfully performed CPRl. Neighbors lifted Tabitha into a car belonging to Diaz, so that Diaz could take her to the hospital. Meanwhile, Vargas and Diaz placed five frantic 911 calls between 12:08 a.m. and 12:14 a.m. In response to “a person screaming” in a call made at 12:10 a.m. officers were dispatched. Neither was aware that the call involved a medical emergency. The events following the arrival of the officers at 12:13 are disputed. The family claims the officers blocked Diaz’s car. Both officers assert that they did not. Contemporaneous dispatch records indicate that, from the time the officers noted their arrival, to the time the ambulance arrived, was just over one minute. Paramedics loaded Tabitha into the ambulance and provided CPR. She arrived at the hospital at 12:28, having suffered a severe anoxic brain injury, and died two weeks later. The district court dismissed claims against the city and officers. The Third Circuit affirmed. The undisputed facts show that the actions of the officers were reasonable in responding to a volatile situation. View "Vargas v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Zirnsak was involved in a motor vehicle accident. She sustained head and lung injuries and skeletal fractures and was hospitalized from October 8 through November 14, 2001, temporarily on life support. Upon her discharge, she was sent to a rehabilitation facility, where she was treated from January 16, 2002 through October 18, 2005. In 2003, she suffered a seizure. She was prescribed medication and did not suffer any further seizures. Between January 5, 2005 and August 11, 2006, Zirnsak underwent plastic surgery for lipoma reductions. Zirnsak sought treatment from several medical professionals, including treatment for “traumatic brain injury, left hemiparesis cognitive impairments with short-term memory deficits, organic affective changes[,] and a seizure disorder.” In 2010, Zirnsak applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits alleging a disability commencing on May 11, 2006. Zirnsak’s date last insured was December 31, 2007. The SSA denied Zirnsak’s application, finding that Zirnsak was capable of performing certain jobs available in the national economy, so long as those jobs were sedentary and routine. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Substantial evidence supports Zirnsak’s ability to perform jobs widely available in the national economy: order clerk, food and beverage; charge account clerk; and telephone clerk. View "Zirnsak v. Colvin" on Justia Law

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The Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA), 49 U.S.C. 20701, provides that “a locomotive … and its parts and appurtenances” must be “in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury.” The Federal Railroad Administration, under the authority of the Secretary of Transportation, has promulgated regulations on the governing standards of care. Canadian Pacific settled lawsuits brought by its employees who had suffered injuries as a result of defective train seats, then brought indemnification, contribution, and breach-of-contract claims against Knoedler Manufacturing, which supplied the seats, and Durham, which tried unsuccessfully to repair the seats. The district court dismissed Canadian Pacific’s claims as preempted by the LIA. The Third Circuit vacated. State law claims of breach of contract, indemnification, contribution based on the LIA are not preempted. To hold that the LIA preempts all breach-of-contract claims would allow, and perhaps encourage, manufacturers to make grand contractual promises to obtain a deal and then breach their duties with impunity. View "Del. & Hudson Ry. Co v. Knoedler Mfrs., Inc" on Justia Law