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By Kyle Roby, Partner
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

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Kyle Roby

A recent Kentucky Supreme Court case addressed the issue of PIP or BRB payments, which are also called no-fault payments. This is part of a class action lawsuit against insurance giant GEICO. The company denied PIP benefits based on a doctor reviewing medical records and not examining the individual. This is known as a peer review of medical records by an out-of-state doctor.

This procedure is not found in the Kentucky Motor Vehicle Reparations Act (MVRA). The plaintiffs argued that this procedure should not have been used as a standard for denying benefits and the Kentucky Supreme Court agreed.  In fact, the Kentucky Supreme Court compared the arguments made by the attorneys and the trial court to coon dogs leading a hunter in the wrong direction or as the old saying goes “they were barking up the wrong tree.”

The case is Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) vs. Jordan Sanders and Anita Houchens (individually and as class representatives). The court handed down the ruling on November 1, and ordered that the ruling was to be published, which means it can be used as a standard in future cases.

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The burden of proof is initially on the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit. In order to prevail, he or she must prove each of the four elements of negligence (duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages) by a preponderance of the evidence. This is usually done through a combination of expert witnesses and lay testimony.

For instance, in many car accident cases, the basic facts of the crash may be explained by lay witnesses (“I saw the blue car run the red light and hit the side of the white van”). Evidence regarding certain damages, such as injuries and the reasonableness and necessity of medical expenses, requires testimony from an expert witness such as a physician.

In the middle of these extremes are cases in which expert witness testimony would prove helpful but is not strictly required in order for a case to go forward. Sometimes, the parties disagree as to whether such testimony is an actual requirement under the circumstances, and the court must make a decision.

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By Kyle Roby
Attorney, English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

IMG_0338For someone who has little experience with law firms or the court system, meeting with a personal injury lawyer can be intimidating. The question we’re asked the most often by our clients is “What do you need me to bring?”

For my personal injury clients, I’ve condensed it down to a short list that you can use as a guideline. These are all documents that are not essential, but they’re very helpful to have with you so your attorney can get to work right away.

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There’s an old riddle that asks, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” We may never know the answer to that question, but it seems that, if a tree located on state property falls onto a car passing over a bridge, there is a good chance that the state’s high court will eventually hear about it, especially if there is any question as to whether the injured person’s lawsuit was promptly filed.

As we’ve mentioned before, the statute of limitations is important in any lawsuit, but some cases have other time limitations and procedural requirements that must also be complied with. In cases involving governmental entities, the timing can be especially tricky.

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In Barnes v. Saulsberry, a man sued a taxi cab driver and the owner of the taxi cab following an accident on the side of the highway. The man was standing on the shoulder of a Tennessee highway waiting for emergency personnel to arrive following a traffic collision. While the man was outside his vehicle, a taxi cab struck a parked automobile. The parked vehicle collided with the man’s car, which then hit the man. As a result, the man allegedly sustained permanent and disabling harm.

About one year after the automobile accident, the injured man filed a negligence lawsuit against the taxi cab driver and its owner in Shelby County, Tennessee. According to the man, the defendants caused him to suffer numerous broken bones, ongoing pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and more. Following a jury trial, the man received a damages award of $1 million. After unsuccessfully seeking a new trial, the defendants filed an appeal with the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Nashville.

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2012-11-04 12.59.31A 2011 accident involving a tree-trimming crew resulted in the death of one worker and injuries to another. The Kentucky Court of Appeals recently ruled on a lawsuit concerning the accident after it was appealed from Warren County Circuit Court in Bowling Green, Kentucky. You can read the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruling in the case here: http://opinions.kycourts.net/coa/2013-CA-000078.pdf

The accident involved three men: James Coleman, Davison Crocker, and Dale Cherry, all of whom were employed by A&G Tree Service, Inc., which is located in Leitchfield, Kentucky. In August 2011, they were sent to a job site in Tennessee, and traveled together to the job site in a company vehicle. On the way back, an accident occurred that took the life of Cherry and injured Crocker. The employment handbook for A&G indicates that their employees are considered to be at work once they arrive at the site where their work is to occur. The workers may use company vehicles for their convenience and carpooling is permitted.

After the accident, Crocker received workers’ compensation benefits, and Cherry’s estate received workers’ compensation death benefits. Crocker sued Coleman and his personal insurance carrier, Progressive Casualty Insurance Company, arguing that Coleman’s negligent driving had caused the accident. Progressive argued that workers’ compensation should be the sole source of benefits for Coleman and Cherry’s estate, but Crocker argued that the men were not on the clock, so tort relief was also possible.

The Warren County Circuit Court did not agree. Kentucky law says that the either an employee may recover workers’ compensation benefits, if in fact their injury occurred while the employee was on the job, or the worker may recover tort damages if the employee was not on the clock at the time of the injury or damages, but the person may not recover both.

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The Kentucky case Estate of Ferrell v. J & W Recycling, Inc. involved a semi truck and car accident in which both drivers died. The two drivers were killed when an automobile and a tractor-trailer collided in Greenup County, Kentucky, in 2011. The driver of the semi-truck was apparently operating the commercial vehicle during the course of his employment for a recycling company. When the accident occurred, the recycling business carried commercial general liability insurance. Still, the company’s insurer refused to honor the policy and indemnify the business after the fatal accident.

Following the tragic wreck, the wife of the automobile driver filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the recycling business. According to her complaint, the accident resulted in part from improper truck loading by a forklift operator. After nearly two years of litigation, the man’s wife and the recycling company agreed upon a settlement in which the business admitted fault for the deadly collision. As part of the agreement, the decedent’s wife accepted the recycling company’s rights under its liability insurance policy. When she filed a petition with the court to “adjudge the existence of coverage” under the policy the insurer sought to move the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky based upon diversity jurisdiction.

28 U.S.C. § 1332 allows a party to a lawsuit to remove a case from state court where the parties are residents of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. The Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, however, allows a federal court to refuse jurisdiction where appropriate. After examining several factors, the federal court declined to hear the case.

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In a recent Kentucky Supreme Court case, a medical malpractice suit was filed by a couple against a doctor and his practice. The doctor had performed a thyroidectomy on the wife. She started experiencing breathing difficulties the night of the surgery. She was placed on a ventilator for four days and stayed in the hospital a total of 12 days. Post-surgery, she had trouble breathing and talking. She consulted with an otolaryngologist. He diagnosed her with right vocal cord paralysis. The couple filed a medical negligence lawsuit in connection with the thyroidectomy.

During discovery, the doctor asked whether other physicians had stated that he deviated from good medical practice. The plaintiffs’ response stated that a surgeon had verified there was a departure from the appropriate standard of care to cut or otherwise alter the vocal cord. The response cited various treating physicians. The doctor filed a motion to set the case for trial. The judge set a schedule requiring the couple to disclose expert witnesses on a particular date. The order by the judge did not contain a specific deadline for disclosure of expert witnesses. It did require quick and efficient witness disclosure.

Three years after the suit was filed the doctor moved for summary judgment. He argued they had failed to identify a surgeon who would testify he deviated from the standard of care. The plaintiffs filed a motion to reschedule the trial and to get an extension of time to list experts. They argued that summary judgment was not appropriate because evidence in the depositions raised genuine issues of material fact. The woman’s medical records showed he was being treated for hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid before the surgery. She consulted with an internist because she was short of breath and had palpitations. An ultrasound showed she had an enlarged right lobe of thyroid with a small lesion. She was referred to the defendant doctor to see whether removal of the gland was appropriate. She consulted with him once before the surgery and signed a consent form in connection with it. The form explained she had a “thyroid storm.” The internal medicine doctor said a thyroid storm is an emergency condition. The appropriate treatment is hospitalization and consultation with an endocrinologist. Surgery is not appropriate. Continue reading

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In a 2013 unpublished appellate case, a woman’s estate appealed after the circuit court granted summary judgment on some of the estate’s claims and directed the verdict on the remaining wrongful death claims. The case arose from the death of Cheryl Powers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Before dying, Powers called 911. A dispatcher took the call. Powers couldn’t speak clearly, but she tried to give her address before the call was disconnected. The dispatcher called the number back, but it went to the woman’s voice mail. The dispatcher called the police dispatcher instead of an ambulance and explained that she thought the woman had given a particular address.

The dispatcher replayed the 911 call and called the police dispatcher again, saying that she thought that the woman had said “Vista Apartments.” The police dispatcher sent an officer to the first address, but the first address did not exist. The police dispatcher told the officer there was no additional information and thereby “cleared” the 911 call. Therefore, no emergency services responded to the woman’s 911 call, and she died. On the following morning, the woman’s boyfriend found her dead in the hallway. Continue reading

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In Kentucky, personal injury cases where negligence is alleged, a plaintiff must establish (1) a duty owed to the plaintiff, (2) breach of the duty, (3) that proximately causes injuries, and (4) actual damages. Negligence, including the element of causation, is never presumed in Kentucky. What happens, however, if some surprising act occurs to cause an accident that is not related to a defendant’s otherwise negligent conduct? A “superseding cause” can absolve a defendant if it is extraordinary and independent — that is not arising out of a negligently created condition.

In a recent unpublished opinion that illustrates how Kentucky looks at the issue of superseding causes, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky considered a case involving two accidents on opposite sides of an interstate highway. The first accident involved the defendant’s car, which she had driven into the median and hit the base of the eastbound bridge under the roadway. The second accident happened when the plaintiffs were driving eastbound. They had come to a total stop in a traffic jam after the defendant’s car’s accident. A tractor-trailer rear-ended their vehicle, killing a family member and injuring another.

The plaintiffs sued the defendant, claiming that her first accident directly and proximately caused their injuries and damages. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that her accident had happened more than a mile away and that the traffic jam was the result of the emergency personnel’s response and the negligence of the tractor-trailer driver, not her driving. The defendant argued that both of these events were superseding causes of the plaintiffs’ injuries. The trial court agreed, ruling that the first responders had stopped traffic and the  tractor-trailer’s negligence were both superseding causes. Continue reading