In a recent case, a woman filed suit against a hospital and her doctor for battery after undergoing a medical procedure. She alleged that she had not given her informed consent for having an intrauterine device (IUD) implanted. About a year after she had the IUD implanted, she found out that her IUD had not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration because of the location to which the device had been shipped.

StethoscopeShe filed the complaint but failed to file a medical expert affidavit, as required by state laws. In this particular state, the law required that plaintiffs filing medical malpractice actions file an expert affidavit along with the complaint. However, the woman argued that her claim did not require her to file the expert affidavit because this was a battery claim rather than a medical malpractice claim. Ultimately, the state’s supreme court disagreed, holding that a battery claim against a medical provider based on a lack of informed consent also requires the filing of a medical expert affidavit.

The court held that even though the claim filed was a battery claim, it still had the same requirements of a general medical malpractice claim. Since cases involving the issue of informed consent generally consider the professional standard required in such cases, they are subject to the same requirements no matter which claim is alleged. There is a question of what the professional standard is in obtaining informed consent. As a result, a medical expert affidavit was required, stating that the expert supports the allegations in the claim.

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In a recent case, a woman had surgery done at a hospital and subsequently suffered a stroke. The woman filed a products liability claim against the manufacturer of one of the medical devices in the surgery. However, when the complaint was originally filed, it did not name the hospital or the doctor as defendants. It also did not state a claim for medical malpractice. Several months later, the woman requested to file an amended complaint to add the defendants and allege medical malpractice. She then filed the amended complaint almost four months after the original complaint.

HourglassThe hospital and the doctor then moved for summary judgment, alleging that the filings were untimely. In the jurisdiction where the case arose, a medical malpractice action must be filed within two years of the cause of action accruing. The original complaint was filed just one day before the two-year statute of limitations had run. Thus, by the time the woman amended the complaint, the new claim against the defendants was not timely. The court granted the defendants’ motions because the claims were filed against them after the statute of limitations had expired. The state supreme court agreed, resulting in the dismissal of the claim.

Amending a Complaint and Its Effect on the Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is the time period during which a plaintiff can bring a certain kind of claim. The period of time varies depending on the type of claim and the jurisdiction, or the place in which it is filed. Often, the time begins to run from the date of the injury, the date that an injury was discovered, or the date that it should have been discovered.

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In a recent case, a man’s decision to forego optional safety equipment later prevented compensation for his injuries. The man was riding his lawn mower when the mower fell off the edge of an embankment and rolled on top of him. He was trapped under the lawn mower, and tragically he died from suffocation. The man’s wife alleged that the lawn mower manufacturer was negligent because the machine did not come with a rollover protection system. However, the defendant pointed out that the man had the option of adding the rollover protection system when he bought the lawn mower, which he neglected to purchase.

SeatbeltA federal appeals court dismissed the plaintiff’s case, holding that, according to the optional equipment doctrine, a manufacturer generally will not be found negligent if a purchaser had the option of buying safety equipment that would have prevented the accident. The court explained that the doctrine may apply where a buyer is knowledgeable regarding the product’s use and the availability of the safety feature, there are normal circumstances in which the product without the optional equipment would not be unreasonably dangerous, and the buyer can balance the risks and benefits with regard to the buyer’s use of the product. Since the rollover protection system was an option when the man bought the lawn mower, the manufacturer could not be held negligent for failing to install the equipment.

The Optional Equipment Doctrine in Illinois

The optional equipment doctrine arises in the context of negligence in manufacturing. It is not exactly a defense, but instead it is a way a defendant can show that it fulfilled its duty to the purchaser. That is, the defendant, by informing buyers that an optional feature is available and can make the product safer for certain users, may have satisfied its duty to make a product safe.

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In a recent case in front of an appellate court, a woman slipped on a piece of watermelon at a grocery store and then sued the store for her injuries. About six feet away from where the woman had fallen, a man had been handing out samples of watermelon to customers. However, the woman did not know how long the watermelon had been on the floor, and there was no evidence that the watermelon was on the floor for any length of time. The woman argued that the store was negligent because it knew or should have known that the floor was wet and posed a danger to customers. She argued that handing out watermelon samples in a high-traffic location created a dangerous condition for customers.

Watermelon PiecesThat state’s supreme court granted a dismissal of the case. The court found that there was no evidence that the store created the dangerous condition through its employee’s distribution of the watermelons. It also found that the store did not have constructive knowledge of the dropped watermelon because there was no evidence of how long it was there. Finally, the court rejected the woman’s argument that the state should adopt the mode-of-operation rule, which looks at a business’ particular mode of operation in creating a dangerous condition, and under which the plaintiff is not required to prove that the store had notice of the condition. Since it rejected this approach, the case failed.

Mode of Operation Liability and the Illinois Approach

Generally, in slip-and-fall cases, a plaintiff must prove that the property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition that caused the injury. That means that the plaintiff must prove through some evidence that the store had actual knowledge of the condition or that it existed for long enough that the store had constructive knowledge, or should have known, of the condition.

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Strange, unexpected acts happen every day. Thus, even when an individual or entity may have acted negligently, they are not always held responsible if an unusual or unexpected event occurs, thereby causing harm. In order to prove a negligence claim in this type of situation, a plaintiff must prove the elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. Additionally, in order to have a successful claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s negligent conduct caused the injuries at issue. Causation in a negligence claim requires a showing of both factual cause, or “but-for” cause, and proximate cause, or “legal” cause. Generally, this requires that the plaintiff show that the resulting injuries were foreseeable, rather than merely a remote result of the breach.

Shopping CartsHowever, if another act occurs that intervenes after the defendant’s conduct or contributes to the harm, that act may amount to a “superseding” cause, which can cut off the defendant’s liability. In order to be a superseding cause, the subsequent act must break the chain of causation between the defendant’s negligent conduct and the resulting harm. That is, generally it must be something that could not be reasonably anticipated by the defendant.

The Effect of “Acts of God” on Causation in Negligence Claims

Generally, an individual is not expected to foresee unusual or extreme conditions, often referred to as “acts of God” in legal claims. If one of these conditions occurs, usually it will amount to a superseding cause because it was not foreseeable. This means that the defendant may not be liable for the resulting harm. However, whether an occurrence is an “act of God” or not depends heavily on the facts of the situation and what is expected under the circumstances. Also, it is often considered a fact for a jury to determine, which would require the case to go to trial in order to be decided.

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Technology in cars is advancing quickly, and many see self-driving cars as the future of transportation. However, these cars present new risks, including privacy concerns and safety risks. Automated cars, also referred to as self-driving vehicles, or autonomous or driverless vehicles, can include a wide range of technologies. These include automated parallel parking assistance, automatic braking, lane-centering, and complete performance of all driving functions. Automated driving can offer many benefits to consumers. For one, it can be very convenient. They also offer many safety benefits. The NHTSA conducted a survey and discovered that over 90 percent of all car accident deaths are caused at least in part by driver inattention or other errors that may be preventable with automated driving. For example, human drivers may be distracted, speed, disobey traffic rules, or misjudge road conditions.

SpeedometerYet, while they offer many benefits, they also present new legal issues. One issue that may arise in these automated cars is the question of who is the driver. That is, is it the person behind the wheel or the manufacturer of the technology? Laws today generally only consider the person behind the wheel to be in control of the vehicle, but that may change as automated cars become more prevalent, and the technology makes further advances. Also, there are concerns that cars could now be targeted for cyber attacks, which could cause liability to shift to the hacker or to the company responsible for the software.

Several states already allow automated cars, or at least the testing of automated cars on their roads. And many manufacturers are pushing for legal changes that support the use of automated cars.

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Injuries that occur as a result of food poisoning can give rise to a number of different claims for the harm suffered. Those who seek compensation for personal injuries resulting from the consumption of contaminated food or beverages can assert claims based on negligence, breach of express or implied warranty, violation of food laws, and strict liability.

FlourFor one, individuals can allege breach of warranty claims to recover compensation for their injuries. Breach of warranty claims can include express and implied warranties. For example, Illinois courts have found liability for a breach of an implied warranty of fitness when a manufacturer sold poisoned flour. In order to recover in a breach of warranty claim, there generally must be privity of contract. Privity of contract often requires that the injured person have purchased the goods from the manufacturer. This can include sellers of goods as well, yet courts have been hesitant to extend liability in such cases, particularly if the seller had no way to inspect the goods.

General Mills Expands Recall of Flour

General Mills announced an expansion to its flour recall resulting from a possible E. Coli outbreak. According to one news source, the updated recall covers different varieties of flour of the Gold Medal and Signature Kitchens brands, produced through February of this year. Four new cases were reported, causing the company to expand the recall. The outbreak has already caused illnesses to 46 people throughout 21 states. Thirteen of those people have required hospitalization. One person suffered from kidney failure as a result.

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In a recent case, a woman was injured after she tripped on a large crack between two sidewalk slabs. The woman sued the city, arguing that the city was liable for failing to maintain the sidewalk in reasonable repair. She claimed that the sidewalk’s hazardous condition had been present for over 30 days before she fell. Indeed, under state law, this was a necessary element that needed to be proved in order for her case to be successful.

Cracked PavementUnder the state’s law, for a sidewalk defect case, a plaintiff was required to prove that the city knew or should have known about the existence of the defect at least 30 days before the injury. If there was an obvious defect at least 30 days before the injury, the city was presumed to have knowledge of the defect. The city took the woman’s deposition, and during her deposition she stated that she did not know how for how long the condition had been there. The woman submitted three photographs taken about 30 days after the accident, which were the only relevant evidence she had of the condition. The city moved to have the case dismissed. That state’s supreme court found that the evidence of the photograph could not show that the defect existed at least 30 days before the woman’s accident. Thus, the case had to be dismissed.

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is a decision made by a court based on the available evidence. The judgment considers whether there is sufficient contradictory evidence that amounts to a dispute of an issue of material fact. If there is a sufficient dispute, the case should be sent to trial so that a judge or jury can resolve the factual dispute based on the evidence presented at trial. The purpose of summary judgment is not to make a decision on a factual dispute but instead to decide whether a factual dispute exists.

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A state court of appeals considered two cases in which underage people were consuming alcohol on an adult’s house and then drove, getting into an accident. The adults knew that the underage people were drinking alcohol but allowed the minors to do so. In one case, one of the underage drinkers caused the death of another person after driving drunk, and in the other case, the underage drinker caused another individual serious injuries. The plaintiffs claimed that the adults were negligent in allowing the minors to drink on their watch. The state’s supreme court held that adults who allow underage drinking can be held liable to those who are injured as a result, including the underage drinkers. In addition, the court held that in these two cases, the adults owed a duty to these victims.

Vodka BottleA 17-year-old drank during a party at an adult’s house, and when he left early in the morning, still intoxicated, he was killed when riding in another intoxicated partygoer’s car. In that case, a woman’s underage son had friends over. His mother was home and knew that underage people were drinking, but she did not tell them to limit or stop drinking. She also did not attempt to prevent any guests from driving.

In the other case, an 18-year-old had been drinking with a 26-year-old and another friend at the 26-year-old’s house. The man knew that the 18-year-old was only 18, that he had too much to drink, and that he would have to drive home. The 26-year-old offered him a place to sleep but told him he could leave if he was “sure that he was going to be able to drive.” The 18-year-old left early in the morning, and while driving, he hit a woman walking her dog on a sidewalk, causing her life-threatening injuries.

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In a recent case decided by a state appellate court, a 10-year-old boy was killed while riding as a passenger on a speedboat. While driving on a lake, the driver of the speedboat drove the speedboat between two warning buoys and hit a submerged pipe. The mother had taken her four children fishing on a lake with her boyfriend when the accident occurred. The boy’s mother settled claims against the boat’s driver and others, and then she sued the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The mother argued that the state was liable because it marked the pipe with buoys that were too far apart, the pipe’s placement violated state laws, the pipe was concealed, and the pipe posed a danger to individuals.

Boat's WakeThe state’s supreme court dismissed the case, finding that the public duty doctrine barred the mother’s claim. The court explained that the public duty doctrine means that if a duty is owed to the public in general, there can be no liability to an individual who is a member of the public. However, there may be a duty to an individual if a special relationship existed. In effect, the public duty rule acts to protect municipalities from liability arising from failing to adequately enforce laws and regulations.

Here, the court found that there was no special relationship between those on the lake that day and the Department of Natural Resources. Members of the public can use the lake at no cost and come and go as they please. There was a duty owed to the general public but not to individuals, and there was no special relationship between the state and recreational boaters. Thus, the claim was barred by the public duty doctrine.

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