Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
A.B. v. S.U. et al.
Plaintiff sued defendants alleging childhood sexual abuse, and defendants moved to dismiss on the ground that the statute, which eliminated the prior limitations period, was unconstitutional. The civil division denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that the limitations period was a procedural bar and defendants had no vested right in the expiration of the prior statute of limitations. Defendants brought an interlocutory appeal to determine whether 12 V.S.A. § 522 violated Chapter I, Article 4 of the Vermont Constitution by reviving an otherwise time-barred claim of childhood sexual abuse. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was no constitutional violation and affirmed. View "A.B. v. S.U. et al." on Justia Law
Morton v. Young
Plaintiff Ava Morton appealed the denial of her complaint for an order against stalking. In May 2022, plaintiff’s mother filed a complaint on behalf of plaintiff, who was then seventeen years old, seeking an anti-stalking order against defendant Mayah Young. The affidavit attached to the complaint alleged that in April 2022, defendant had posted a video on the social media platform TikTok that included a half-naked picture of plaintiff. Plaintiff’s mother called the police, who went to defendant’s home, directed her to delete plaintiff’s picture from her phone, and warned her that she could end up in a lot of trouble because plaintiff was a minor. The complaint alleged that afterward, defendant posted another video in which she threatened to hurt plaintiff, followed by two more videos in which she suggested that she still had the picture and might send it to others. The civil division declined to issue a temporary order, concluding that the alleged conduct did not fall within the definition of stalking. Finding no reversible error in the civil division's judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Morton v. Young" on Justia Law
Swett, et al. v. Gates
Defendant Brian Gates appealed a trial court’s extension and modification of three stalking orders against him. he parties are longtime neighbors who lived on the same street in Mendon, Vermont. Defendant owned a home on the street; he also owns a vacant lot next to the home of plaintiffs Elizabeth Swett and Doug Earle. In January 2021, plaintiffs sought stalking orders against defendant, alleging defendant was engaging in aggressive and intimidating behavior, including yelling and swearing at them, firing his gun to intimidate them, and otherwise acting in ways that made them fear for their physical safety. Gates raised numerous arguments, many of which related to the requirements for the issuance of initial stalking orders rather than extensions of those orders. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the court acted within its discretion in extending and modifying the orders and therefore affirmed. View "Swett, et al. v. Gates" on Justia Law
Hill v. Springfield Hospital, et al.
Defendants challenged the civil division’s order granting plaintiff Sharond Hill’s request to vacate its previous order dismissing her complaint. In February 2019, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants Springfield Hospital (Springfield) and Emergency Services of New England, Inc. (Emergency Services) alleging that defendants were negligent in failing to timely diagnose her with appendicitis when she went to the Springfield emergency department in April 2016. Both defendants filed answers denying plaintiff’s claims. In July 2019, Springfield notified the civil division and the parties that it had filed a voluntary petition of bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and that pursuant to § 362(a) of the Bankruptcy Code, plaintiff’s claims against it were automatically stayed. In response, the civil division issued an order dismissing plaintiff’s case without prejudice. The civil division held a status conference in September 2020; plaintiff’s counsel indicated at the conference that Springfield Hospital may have emerged from bankruptcy and, if not, he might seek relief from the bankruptcy stay. The bankruptcy court issued an order closing Springfield’s bankruptcy case in July 2021. In October 2021, plaintiff moved to vacate the dismissal and reopen her malpractice case. In her motion, plaintiff asserted that none of the conditions set forth in the dismissal order had technically occurred. Alternatively, plaintiff argued that even if one of the conditions had occurred, she should be excused for failing to file her motion to reopen within thirty days because she did not receive timely notice of the occurrence from defense counsel. Finally, she argued that her claim against Emergency Services should never have been dismissed because Emergency Services was not part of the bankruptcy proceeding. In March 2022, the civil division granted plaintiff’s motion, stating that it was “persuaded that there was no legal or equitable basis to dismiss the action simply because one of the two defendants filed a bankruptcy petition.” The court stated that it had intended to simply stay the action and that dismissal would be unjust. "The record is clear that plaintiff’s own lack of diligence, not the 2019 dismissal order or defendants’ conduct, is the reason for her situation." The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with defendants that there was no legal basis for the court to grant such relief, and therefore reversed. View "Hill v. Springfield Hospital, et al." on Justia Law
Fleurrey v. Department of Aging and Independent Living, et al.
Plaintiff Tina Fleurrey appealed the dismissal of her negligence claim against defendant landlord 3378 VT Route 12 LLC. In her complaint, she alleged that landlord was responsible for the drowning death of decedent Scott Fleurrey, a fifty-four-year-old man with developmental disabilities, on the property that landlord leased to decedent’s caretakers, Upper Valley Services (UVS) and Azwala Rodriguez. The question on appeal was whether the civil division properly dismissed plaintiff’s claim. Plaintiff argued the civil division erred by misunderstanding the controlling law because landlord owed decedent a duty to protect and because the civil division drew inferences favorable to landlord. The Vermont Supreme Court held that the civil division properly granted landlord’s dismissal motion because: (1) Vermont precedents required an invitee to seek redress for injuries sustained on negligently maintained property from the land possessor who invited the injured invitee to the defective property, rather than from the absentee landlord; (2) §§ 343 and 343A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts were inapplicable here because those Restatement sections addressed only land possessors, and plaintiff did not allege that landlord was the possessor of the subject property; and (3) no duty could arise where, as here, a plaintiff did not allege that a legal relationship existed between a decedent and a landlord. View "Fleurrey v. Department of Aging and Independent Living, et al." on Justia Law
Civetti v.Town of Isle La Motte, et al.
A Vermont trial court determined that both the Town of Isle La Motte and the road commissioner Shelby Turner were entitled to qualified immunity and granted their motions for summary judgment after concluding that decisions regarding road alterations were discretionary, “involv[ing] an element of judgment or choice,” rather than ministerial, meaning “prescribe[d].” The underlying tort action in this appeal followed an August 2016 motor vehicle accident in the Town: Plaintiff Paul Civetti was driving a propane truck on Main Street when he lost control of the vehicle causing it to roll over and come to rest on its roof. Plaintiff argued defendants were negligent in failing to widen Main Street in accordance with Vermont Town Road and Bridge Standards, causing his accident. The State of Vermont promulgated Town Road and Bridge Standards to serve as guidance for municipalities when they decide to construct or alter a town highway. Plaintiff filed a negligence claim against defendants the Town of Isle La Motte and Turner, in his capacity as road commissioner, seeking damages for plaintiff’s injuries. The parties disputed what authority, if any, the Town Selectboard delegated to the road commissioner to construct, lay out, and alter Town roadways. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that deciding whether to widen Main Street was discretionary, thus entitling both the Town and the road commissioner to qualified immunity. The Court therefore affirmed. View "Civetti v.Town of Isle La Motte, et al." on Justia Law
Beatty v. Keough
Plaintiff and defendant worked in the same location. Defendant was the wife of plaintiff’s employer. In late July 2021, plaintiff sought relief under 12 V.S.A. § 5133 following a workplace confrontation with defendant. After an October 2021 hearing, the trial court credited plaintiff's version of events, ultimately concluding that defendant defendant behaved in a way that she knew or should have known would place a reasonable person in fear of harm, and this satisfied the statutory definition of stalking. The court thus issued a final anti-stalking order in plaintiff’s favor. Defendant appealed the issuance of that anti-stalking order against her, raising procedural and substantive challenges to the court’s decision. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with defendant that the evidence did not support the trial court’s conclusion that she engaged in “two or more acts over a period of time, however short” as required by 12 V.S.A. § 5131(1)(A). The Court therefore reversed. View "Beatty v. Keough" on Justia Law
Progressive Northern Insurance Company v. McGrath
Plaintiff-appellant Kevin McGrath challenged a superior court’s decision granting summary judgment to appellee Progressive Northern Insurance Company. Specifically, he argued the court erred in concluding that he was not “occupying” a vehicle, as that term is defined in the insurance policy at issue, when he was struck and injured by an underinsured motorist. Plaintiff was driving the vehicle’s owner in the owner’s vehicle to the airport. Plaintiff stopped at a gas station/convenience store on the way; he got out to pump gas and paid for it at the pump. The owner went inside the store for coffee. As the two returned to the car, but before they got inside, a pickup truck struck both plaintiff and the owner. Plaintiff filed for underinsured motorist benefits with the owner’s insurance company, Progressive, asserting he qualified for coverage under the terms of the policy. Progressive denied the claim, contending Plaintiff was not operating or occupying the car at the time of the accident. Plaintiff sued for a declaratory judgment on stipulated facts and no discovery. Summary judgment was entered in favor of the insurer. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed, finding that while Plaintiff intended to enter the car, he did not, thus he did not occupy it under the terms of the policy at issue. View "Progressive Northern Insurance Company v. McGrath" on Justia Law
Higgins v. Bailey
The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review was whether a landlord who had no knowledge that a tenant’s dog had dangerous propensities could be held liable for injuries the dog causes to individuals who enter the property with tenant’s permission. Plaintiff Katherine Higgins, who was badly injured by a tenant’s dog while on the leased property, challenged the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to defendant landlords. When he was showing the house on landlords’ behalf after tenant moved in, a realtor who was representing landlords in marketing the property observed obvious signs around the house that a dog lived there, including door casings that were badly scratched by the dog. The realtor did not see the dog and did not know its size or breed or whether it had ever acted aggressively towards any person or other animal; based on the sound of the dog, he opined that it was “tough and loud.” Plaintiff, a neighbor, was attacked and seriously injured by tenant’s dog, an American Pitbull Terrier, while visiting tenant on the rental property. On appeal, plaintiff renews her argument that landlords have a general duty of care to the public, and that this duty includes a duty of reasonable inquiry concerning tenants’ domestic animals. In addition, she argues that landlords were on notice of the dog’s dangerous propensities on the basis of the observations made by realtor, acting as landlords’ agent. Finally, she contends that landlords are liable to plaintiff on the basis of a municipal ordinance. Finding no reversible error in granting summary judgment to the landlords, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Higgins v. Bailey" on Justia Law
West v. North Branch Fire District #1
Claimant John West appealed a Vermont Department of Labor decision concluding that the 2014 amendment to 21 V.S.A. 644(a)(6) did not apply retroactively. In March 2013, West fell fifteen to twenty feet while working in the course of his employment for North Branch Fire District. He was transported to the hospital and treated for extensive injuries. In September 2014, West relocated to Florida, and at some point thereafter, began working at the Freedom Boat Club. Between 2014 and 2016, several different physicians provided conflicting opinions on the level of West’s permanent impairment. In February 2016, Dr. Joseph Kandel conducted an independent medical examination (IME) at North Branch’s request. At a deposition in September 2018, Dr. Kandel testified that it would be accurate to say that “West suffered an injury to the skull resulting in [a] severe traumatic brain injury causing permanent and severe cognitive, physical, or psychiatric disabilities.” West filed a request for a formal hearing, asserting that he was permanently and totally disabled under section 644(a)(6). Between the date of West’s injury and his request for a formal hearing, the Vermont Legislature amended section 644(a)(6). In January 2019, North Branch filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the pre-amendment version of 644(a)(6), which defined total and permanent disability as “an injury to the skull resulting in incurable imbecility or insanity,” applied to West’s claim because that was the law on the date of his injury in March 2013. Further, North Branch argued that the 2014 amendment did not apply retroactively because despite the Legislature’s stated purpose, the amendment created a substantive change in the law. In any event, because West was employed, North Branch maintained that he was not totally and permanently disabled under either version of 644(a)(6). West argued that, contrary to the Commissioner’s conclusion, the 2014 amendment to 644(a)(6) applied retroactively because it did not create any new substantive rights. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the 2014 amendment applied retroactively and therefore reversed and remanded. View "West v. North Branch Fire District #1" on Justia Law