Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion.After plaintiff was injured when a manlift struck her outside Harrah's Casino in New Orleans, a jury found Jazz Casino negligent, assigning it 49% of the fault. Plaintiff was awarded, among other jury awards, $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering. The Casino appealed.The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the finding of negligence under a negligent hiring theory, operational control theory, and authorization of unsafe work practices theory presented to jurors. The court also held that none of the objected-to evidence was erroneously admitted at trial. However, the court held that the jury's $1,000,000 award for future pain, suffering, mental anguish, disability, scarring, and disfigurement was excessive. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the Casino's motion for judgment as a matter of law and motion for a new trial, vacated the award for future pain and suffering, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Echeverry v. Jazz Casino Co., LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Patricia Guadalupe Garcia Cervantes, a Mexican citizen who was attempting to enter the United States illegally by swimming across the Brownsville Ship Channel, was struck and killed by a Coast Guard vessel patrolling the area. Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of his and Cervantes' daughter, filed suit alleging negligence and wrongful death claims against the United States, as well as products liability, gross negligence, and wrongful death claims against the manufacturers of the vessel and its engines, Safe Boats and Mercury Marine.After determining that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction based on admiralty, the Fifth Circuit concluded that, notwithstanding plaintiff's own lack of standing, he may still maintain claims as next-of-friend for his daughter. Reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment and its duty determination de novo, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court held that the negligence claim failed because the United States owed no duty to Cervantes; the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's defective design claims against Safe Boats and Mercury Marine where Cervantes lacked standing to bring those claims under Section 402A of the Second Restatement in regard to maritime products liability claims; even assuming plaintiff could bring these products liability claims, plaintiff failed to show that the asserted defective products proximately caused Cervantes' death; plaintiff's failure-to-warn claims were also properly dismissed; and the district court correctly dismissed the wrongful death claims after dismissing all the underlying tort claims. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims and affirmed the dismissal. View "Ortega Garcia v. United States" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured when a manlift struck her outside Harrah's Casino in New Orleans, a jury found Jazz Casino negligent, assigning it 49% of the fault. Plaintiff was awarded, among other jury awards, $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering. The Casino appealed.The Fifth Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient to support the negligent-hiring claim; the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find the Casino liable for plaintiff's injury under an operational-control theory; and the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that the Casino had authorized unsafe work practices. The court also held that none of the objected-to evidence was erroneously admitted at trial. However, the court held that the jury's $1,000,000 award for future pain, suffering, mental anguish, disability, scarring, and disfigurement was excessive. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Casino's motion for judgment as a matter of law and motion for a new trial; vacated the award for future pain and suffering; and remanded for further proceedings. View "Echeverry v. Jazz Casino Co., LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Plaintiff was hired by Kirby to pilot a seagoing vessel. While plaintiff was aboard the vessel, he injured his foot when he tripped over a stair inside a hatch door. Plaintiff filed suit against Kirby for lost wages and the district court ultimately determined that Kirby was liable to plaintiff on his claim of Sieracki seaworthiness and that Kirby was alternatively liable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The district court awarded plaintiff $11,695,136.00 in damages.The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiff is not an employee of Riben Marine and thus is not eligible to sue under section 905(b) of the LHWCA; the district court did not clearly err in concluding that the vessel was unseaworthy; plaintiff was not contributorily negligent for wearing sunglasses on the vessel and the district court did not make insufficient factual findings on the contributory negligence question; assuming arguendo that the district court erroneously admitted evidence of a subsequent remedial measure, Kirby has not demonstrated that the error affected its substantial rights; and the district court did not err in assessing plaintiff's lost future earnings. View "Rivera v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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After he sustained an ankle injury by stepping on a chafed stern line while he was a seaman aboard a tugboat owned by Kirby, plaintiff filed a Jones Act negligence claim against Kirby. The district court concluded that Kirby was negligent, based on an order by its vessel's captain to replace the stern line in unfavorable weather. Furthermore, plaintiff was contributorily negligent for placing the removed stern line near him and subsequently stepping on it while carrying out that order, reducing his damages award in proportion to his fault.The Fifth Circuit concluded that changing out the chafed line fell within the class of ordinary "heavy lifting" plaintiff performed routinely, and thus the district court was not precluded, as a matter of law, from reducing his award proportional to his fault. The court explained that the district court did not clearly err in finding that plaintiff was negligent in stepping on the chafed line, but the district court did err in finding him negligent for failing to move it. In this case, Kirby did not present any evidence showing that plaintiff placed the chafed line on the deck in an imprudent manner and the tugboat's captain, who gave plaintiff the order, watched the entire procedure, testifying that there were no irregularities in how the task was performed. Therefore, in the absence of any evidence, the district court's finding of fifty percent negligence based on plaintiff's placement of the chafed stern line is clearly erroneous. Finally, the court upheld the general damages award and concluded that the district court did not clearly err in awarding $60,000. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Knight v. Kirby Offshore Marine Pacific, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the unions she was affiliated with, as well as a maritime association, for sexual harassment under federal employment law, arguing that defendant's conduct created a hostile work environment. Plaintiff also filed suit against defendant himself for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) under Texas state law. The district court entered a default judgment in plaintiff's favor on the IIED claim and plaintiff ultimately prevailed at trial against the other defendants.The Fifth Circuit first held that a party's failure to file a motion to set aside a default judgment in the district court does not prevent the party from appealing that judgment to the court. On the merits, the court vacated the default judgment on the IIED claim, concluding that plaintiff could not pursue an IIED against defendant in light of the other statutory remedies available to plaintiff. The court explained that a plaintiff generally cannot sustain an IIED claim if the plaintiff could have brought a sexual harassment claim premised on the same facts. In this case, the gravamen of plaintiff's IIED claim is for sexual harassment; plaintiff used defendant's conduct as a basis for her Title VII claims against the other defendants; plaintiff ultimately prevailed on those claims against the union; and the availability of those statutory remedies on the same facts forecloses her IIED claims against defendant. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Stelly v. Duriso" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Wal-Mart after a store employee incorrectly identified plaintiff as a shoplifting suspect in a photo lineup. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's dismissal of her defamation claim.The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart on the defamation claim, holding that none of plaintiff's assertions raises a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the Wal-Mart employee made her statement with actual malice. In this case, the employee could easily have been confident in her identification despite the absence of a facial piercing in the photo lineup; the record does not suggest a large discrepancy between the employee's description of the suspect and her identification of plaintiff, including the shade of her complexion; and the employee did not demonstrate malice by failing to review security footage. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's attacks on the employee's credibility. View "Smith v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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Plaintiff filed suit against Fieldwood and others after he was injured while working on Fieldwood's offshore platform. The jury found that Fieldwood was the only defendant that was negligent, attributing 50 percent of the responsibility to the company and the other 50 percent to plaintiff.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of judgment for defendants, agreeing with the district court that plaintiff was Fieldwood's borrowed employee and thus the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act's (LHWCA) exclusive-remedy provision gave Fieldwood tort immunity. In this case, the evidence showed that both Fieldwood and Waukesha Pearce had LHWCA insurance at the time of plaintiff's injury and that is enough for Fieldwood to invoke the LHWCA's exclusive-recovery provision. Finally, the court held that the district court's consideration of Fieldwood's post-trial evidence was proper. View "Raicevic v. Fieldwood Energy, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the United States and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers for injuries suffered during an incident at the International Port of Entry Gateway Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the CBP officers based on qualified immunity. In this case, the court found that plaintiff was neither arrested nor unreasonably seized, and the officers did not use excessive force. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against the United States for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based on the customs-duty exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). View "Angulo v. Brown" on Justia Law

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After their twenty-two month old son suffered terrible injuries by ingesting eight Buckyball magnets, plaintiffs filed suit against M&O for manufacturing and distributing Buckyball magnets in the United States. The jury returned a verdict for M&O and plaintiffs moved for a new trial and for relief from judgment, which the district court denied.The Fifth Circuit affirmed and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that its evidentiary rulings constituted prejudicial error. In this case, the district court did not commit prejudicial error by granting the motion in limine and otherwise excluding post-sale evidence at trial. The court also held that the district court did not err in denying plaintiffs' motion to set aside the final judgment where plaintiffs failed to proffer bias evidence. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in denying plaintiffs' request for a preemption jury instruction. View "Jordan v. Maxfield & Oberton Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury