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Righi Fitch Law Group Is Proud To Announce The Addition Of A New Attorney To Our Team

Linda Tivorsak Bird
Attorney
Righi Fitch Law Group

(JULY 29, 2020) - Righi Fitch Law Group is proud to announce the addition of a new attorney to our team: Linda Tivorsak Bird! She is an experienced trial attorney who has handled a variety of civil defense cases that range from premises liability, to personal injury and wrongful death. She has also represented individuals involving employment law, where she has responded to charges of discrimination, wrongful termination, and harassment. In addition to her civil practice, she is also an experienced criminal defense attorney. She has conducted over 35 criminal jury trials, hundreds of settlement conferences and has significant courtroom experience. Linda is a proud graduate of Yale University, and the University of Kansas School of Law.

When Linda is not busy with work, she is quite the adventurist. She enjoys participating in full and half Ironman triathlons, as well as running, paddleboarding, and skiing. She is also fluent in conversational Thai and has been an alumni interviewer for prospective Yale students for over ten years. She is also the immediate past-President of the Yale Club of Phoenix.

We are excited to have Linda on board the Righi Fitch team and we look forward to watching her grow with our firm.

We wish you the very best during these trying times. Be well.

Please contact Beth Fitch at 602) 385-6782 or Rick Righi at (602) 385-6780, Founding Partners for Righi Fitch Law Group, if you have any questions or concerns.

 

Tort Reform Louisiana House Bill 57

(JULY 31, 2020) - On July 13th Louisiana Governor John Bell Edwards signed HB 57, Louisiana’s Tort Reform legislation, into law. The law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2021 and applies to causes of action arising after that date, covers the following topics:

1) Lowering the jury verdict threshold to $10,000

2) Excluding the existence of insurance coverage from the jury

3) Limiting medical expenses to the amount actually paid with the court awarding the claimant 40% of the difference between the amount billed and the amount paid provided the award is not unreasonable

4) Repealing the statute that prevented evidence of plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt to prove comparative fault

Jury Trials:

Previously a jury trial was only authorized when the amount in controversy exceeded $50,000. The new law reduces the threshold for a jury trial to $10,000. Under the new law, if a plaintiff stipulates or otherwise judicially admits that the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000 but is less than $50,000, a party requesting a jury trial must provide a cash deposit in the amount of $5,000. Previously the jury bond was fixed by the court and due no later than 60 days prior to trial. Exceptions may need to be filed prior to answering to determine the amount in controversy where the petition does not specify that the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000 but is less than $50,000.

Evidence of Liability Insurance:

The new law provides that the existence of insurance coverage shall not be communicated to the jury. The law retains the prior language that although a policy of insurance may be admissible, the amount of coverage under the policy is not communicated to the jury unless the amount of coverage is a disputed issue for the jury to decide. There are three exceptions to the new law prohibiting evidence of the existence of a liability insurance policy: 1) if there is a factual dispute related to coverage for the jury to decide; 2) if the existence of insurance coverage would be admissible to attack witness credibility; or 3) if the cause of action is brought against the insurer alone under the direct action statue or bad faith is alleged. However, even under the new law, in all cases brought against an insurer the court shall read instructions to the jury that there is insurance coverage for the damages claimed by the plaintiff at the opening and closing of the trial.

Past medical expenses (collateral source):

The new law provides that where a claimant’s medical expenses have been paid, in whole or in part, by a health insurer or Medicare, the claimant’s recovery of medical expenses is limited to the amount actually paid or owed by the claimant and not the amount billed. However, the court must award 40% of the difference between the amount billed and the amount actually paid, unless the defendant proves this would make the award unreasonable.

The limitation to the amounts paid includes any amounts remaining owed to a medical provider, including medical expenses secured by a contractual or statutory privilege, lien, or guarantee.

In a jury trial, the plaintiff can still present evidence of the amounts billed, and only after a verdict is rendered can a defendant present evidence to limit the recovery pursuant to the new law. During the trial, the jury is only informed of the amount billed. Whether any person, health insurer, or Medicare has paid or agreed to pay in whole or in part any of the medical expenses is not disclosed to the jury.

The new law codifies the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision in Bozeman v. State, 879 So.2d 69 (La. 7/2/04) and states that in cases where medical expenses were paid by Medicaid, recovery is limited to the amount actually paid to the provider by

Medicaid.

The new law also codifies the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision in Simmons v. Cornerstone Investments, LLC, 252 So.3d 491 (La. 5/8/19) and states that in cases where medical expenses were paid pursuant to Louisiana Worker’s Compensation Law, recover is limited to the amount paid under the medical payment fee schedule.

Seat Belt:

Prior law provided that the failure to wear a seat belt was not admissible to mitigate damages. This section has been repealed and allows for the admission of evidence of the failure to wear a seat belt.

Our firm participated in meetings with state Senators, presented topics at the Property and Casualty Insurance Committee meetings in Baton Rouge, LA, and drafted some of the proposed legislation. This is a positive step forward in a lengthy and ongoing process of tort reform measures in Louisiana which we hope to continue to progress through our efforts. - (Perrier & Lacoste)

 

Recent Appellate Court Decisions Show That Plaintiffs Suing Federal Government Employers Do Not Have to Work as Hard to Prove Age Discrimination

(AUGUST 5, 2020) - A pair of recent appellate decisions makes clear that the burden of proof for establishing a claim for age discrimination against a federal government entity is somewhat lower than the more stringent standard which applies to state and local governments, as well as private employers. Decisions by the U.S.
Supreme Court and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals establish that a plaintiff seeking recovery under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) need only prove that age was merely one of the factors considered in connection with an adverse employment action by an employer in the “federal sector,” while a plaintiff asserting a claim against any other government entity or private employer must go further, and prove that age was the “but-for cause” of the employer’s decision.

In Babb v. Wilkie, 140 S.Ct. 1168 (2020), the 53-year-old plaintiff worked as a clinical pharmacist at a U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center. Babb claimed that over a two-year period, the VA took away a designation which made her eligible for a promotion, denied her training opportunities, passed her over for other positions, and reduced her holiday pay. Babb filed suit under the federal provision of the ADEA against the VA claiming, among other things, she was subject to age discrimination.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a split among the appellate courts in the various federal circuits regarding the proper interpretation of the ADEA’s federal sector provision, which provides that personnel decisions made by federal government entities must be made “free from any discrimination based on age.” Following a thorough analysis of the syntax of the statutory language, the Court determined that Babb need only show that age was merely a factor in the employment decisions in order to establish liability. The Court recognized, however, that the statutory language applicable to other entities was different, and that a plaintiff filing suit against a private employer or state and local governments would need to show that age was the but-for cause of the employer’s decision.

Less than six weeks after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the but-for causation standard for private entities. In Zabala-De Jesus v. Sanofi-Aventis Puerto Rico, Inc., 959 F.3d 423 (1st Cir. 2020), the plaintiff filed suit against his former employer alleging that when two positions in his company were consolidated into one, he was terminated in favor of the younger employee. However, the employer was able to show that before Zabala-De Jesus was terminated, it had conducted an extensive examination of the two employees in consideration for the new role. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, his performance reviews and experience with the company did not stack up to the other, younger candidate. The 1st Circuit held that in light of the thoughtful consideration of the candidates’ qualifications, the employer had shown a “legitimate, non-discriminatory reason” for the decision, and the plaintiff could not meet his burden to show that the employer’s rationale was merely a pretext for discrimination, and that his age was the true reason for the adverse action.

While the First Circuit decision in Zabala-De Jesus does not mention the Supreme Court’s decision in Babb, it supports the conclusion that the “but-for” standard of causation continues to apply outside the context of the federal sector provision in the ADEA. Nevertheless, any employer hoping to steer clear of a discrimination claim would be wise to avoid any consideration of an employee’s age in making employment decisions. - (Melick & Porter)

 

Multiple Gallagher Sharp Attorneys Selected for 2021 Best Lawyers®

(AUGUST 27, 2020) - The Best Lawyers in America is one of the world’s most trusted resources for fair and honest reviews and ratings for attorneys in various practices. The organization uses a Purely Peer Review™ process to select annual members who exemplify outstanding legal services and the utmost commitment to professional ethics.

It is with much excitement that Gallagher Sharp – a member of Themis Advocates Group – can announce that several of its attorneys have been selected as 2021 Best Lawyers® members by The Best Lawyers in America.

Gallagher Sharp attorneys who have earned this high honor include:

  • Attorney Joseph W. Pappalardo
  • Attorney Monica A. Sansalone
  • Attorney Richard C.O. Rezie
  • Attorney Thomas E. Dover
  • Attorney Timothy P. Roth
  • Attorney Timothy T. Brick

From all of us with Themis Advocates Group, we want to congratulate these six attorneys for this great achievement. We look forward to watching your careers continue to thrive in the coming years and far beyond.

More About the 2021 Best Lawyers® Members

Attorney Tim Brick: 2021 marks a first-year selection for Attorney Tim Brick, who is selected as a Best Lawyers® member in the area of Legal Malpractice Law – Defendants. Tim is a Managing Partner of Gallagher Sharp, where he is an instrumental member of the firm's Professional Liability and Business and Employment Practice Groups. Across his 30+ years of experience, Attorney Brick has participated in more than 25 jury trials. When not working on a difficult defense case, Tim is often scheduled to lecture on legal ethics and malpractice.

Attorney Tim Roth: 2021 is also the first year that Attorney Tim Roth has been named a Best Lawyers® member. His selection involves his work as a transportation law attorney. Attorney Roth is also a Partner of Gallagher Sharp, who heads the law firm’s Transportation Group. He has built his career and reputation on successfully defending trucking companies from various lawsuits with a focus on those involving truck accidents and liability. Outside of the law firm, Attorney Tim Roth spends time as part of the Faculty and Executive Council of the CLM Claims College School of Transportation or instructing legal professionals as part of the Trucking Industry Defense Association (TIDA) Skills Course.

Attorney Joe Pappalardo: Back in 2015, Attorney Joe Pappalardo was first selected as a Best Lawyers® member for Transportation Law. He has been selected as Cleveland's Best Lawyers Transportation Law Lawyer of the Year for 2021, an honor that is only rivaled by his previous titles won in 2016 and 2018.

Attorney Monica Sansalone: This is the second year in a row that Attorney Monica Sansalone has been selected as a Best Lawyers® member in the area of Ethics and Professional Responsibility Law, having first been honored in the 2020 Edition.

Attorney Tom Dover: Tom is a longstanding Best Lawyers® member, having first earned this title in 2003 for his work on railroad law, mass torts, class actions, and personal injury claims, all with a focus on representing defendants. In 2012 and 2017, he was named as Cleveland's Best Lawyers Mass Tort Litigation/Class Actions-Defendants Lawyer of the Year. In 2014, he was also given the title of Cleveland's Best Lawyers Personal Injury Litigation-Defendants Lawyer of the Year.

Attorney Rich Rezie: Best Lawyers® first recognized Attorney Rezie in the area of Insurance Law back in 2018.

More About Gallagher Sharp

Individuals and corporations alike in Ohio and Michigan know they can depend on Gallagher Sharp for keen defense representation, even for cases that must go to trial. There are no cases too complex or high stakes for the firm, which keeps its focus on general litigation, business and employment law disputes, insurance claim defense, transportation law, mass tort defense, and more. With the firm first opening its doors in 1912, it is one of the few in the region that can boast having more than a century’s worth of experience.

To learn more about Best Lawyers®, you can click here and visit the organization’s official website. T

 

Baumann, Gant & Keeley Defend Product Defect Wrongful Death Claim

(SEPTEMBER 8, 2020) - Baumann, Gant & Keeley, P.A. in Jacksonville, Florida – a law firm that is part of Themis Advocates Group – recently defended two businesses from a wrongful death and product liability lawsuit. The plaintiff blamed the defendants for a sewer pipe explosion that killed her son. The attorneys of Baumann, Gant & Keeley, P.A. were able to secure a motion for summary judgment on all three counts of negligence brought forth by the plaintiff, effectively ending the case in favor of the defense.

Details of the Sewer Pipe Fatal Accident Case

The plaintiff’s son (decedent) was repairing a sewer pipe manufactured by Vanderlans & Sons, Inc. (Vanderlans) and rented out by Sunbelt Rentals, Inc. (Sunbelt) when it exploded. The resulting blast threw debris that struck the decedent, resulting in injuries severe enough to cause his death. The plaintiff blamed Vanderlans and Sunbelt for the accident and attempted to sue for compensation.

The sewer pipe was installed to block water flow into the plumbing system. It appears that an excess of pressure due to the blocked water flow caused the pipe and its plug to fail and explode, but the exact details are unknown due to a lack of expert investigation into the matter. Although just because a product fails does not mean it did so due to negligence or in a way that warrants a lawsuit.

When the Evidence Does Not Add Up

To disprove the plaintiff’s claim, the attorneys of Baumann, Gant & Keeley, P.A. turned to Florida’s definitions of product liability. Under this definition, a product is defective if there is a design, manufacturing, or marketing warning that causes the product to become dangerous when used as intended. The plaintiff failed to make an argument as to which of the three ways the sewer pipe and its pipe plug were defective; she merely argued that the pipe was defective in some undescribed way.

Furthermore, the plaintiff did not hire an expert plumber or engineer to investigate the failed pipe. Without an expert’s testimony, crucial technicalities that could show how the pipe failed and why it failed were entirely absent in the claim. Effectively, the plaintiff’s argument would have to be based on speculation and a general haze of product liability, which is not enough to warrant a ruling in their favor.

Interestingly, the plaintiff tried to revive their argument by pointing to Cassisi v. Maytag, a case that established that a products liability action could succeed if it can be proven that the product was defective “at the time of the injury and at the time it was within [the] control of the supplier.” However, Cassisi requires the preservation of the evidence and involves products that require little “user interference,” like a washing machine that can be operated with the click of a button. The court found that the plaintiff did not preserve the evidence properly and that the pipe plug manufactured by Vanderlans required significant user interference or interaction, such as the decedent attempted to install it themselves with technical knowledge and various plumbing tools.

Sunbelt was also excused of any liability through the motion of summary judgment. The plaintiff’s claimed that the pipe plug they rented to the decedent was stored incorrectly, causing it to deteriorate to the point that it would be prone to a catastrophic failure. Again, the court found that there was no evidence to suggest this claim as true, mainly due to a complete lack of expert testimony.

The court ruled in favor of the defendants on August 30, 2020, and recorded its final judgment.

 
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