In March of 2021, firm members William W. Watts, III and Jeffery J. Hartley, representing the Chapter 13 Trustee for the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Alabama, obtained an order from the Court of Civil Appeals reversing a trial court’s judgment awarding reimbursement to the employer of workman’s compensation benefits paid to the debtor out of proceeds collected by the debtor in satisfaction of a judgment against an underinsured motorist insurer. The Court held that employers are not entitled to be reimbursed their payment of worker’s compensation benefits out of the proceeds collected by the employee on a claim for underinsured motorist benefits arising out of an automobile accident which occurred in the course and scope of the employee’s employment. The Court rejected the argument that the employer should be entitled to be reimbursed UM proceeds if they are collected under a policy of uninsured motorist benefits that the employer itself obtained for the benefit of its employees while driving in the course and scope of their employment.
Warren and Casey finished a jury trial in October of 2021 in which their clients’ home was being condemned for a new highway. Their clients had assembled over 250 acres of land in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and they had improved it with a home that was over 7,000 SF in size. The home was located inside a 5/8 mile race-horse practice track. A new State highway project took about 22 acres of land, the home, the racetrack, and a pond, and it left their property divided by the new highway. The State Department of Transportation put on evidence that it owed around $1.3 million. The jury returned a verdict for over $2.9 million, and after adding prejudgment interest, the final judgment amount was $3,694,118. This final judgment amount was nearly three times more than the State’s position of what it owed, and it was the just compensation that the homeowners were entitled to.
In September of 2021, firm members Bill Watts and Ryan Luna, representing a local hospital, successfully obtained an order from the Alabama Supreme Court, granting the hospital’s petition for writ of mandamus, and reversing the trial court’s order denying the hospital’s motion to dismiss the action on the grounds that the action was barred by the statute of limitations.
Helmsing Leach partners Win Stuardi and Kirk Mattei recently secured a defense award for their nursing home client in a wrongful death case following a 4-day arbitration hearing. Plaintiff alleged that the nursing staff breached the standard of care in failing to monitor a resident who allegedly choked while eating dinner. Through the testimony of the nursing staff and expert witnesses (a registered nurse and pulmonologist), the nursing home put on evidence that the standard of care was met, the resident had finished eating and the probable cause of the resident’s death was a pulmonary embolus. After hearing all the evidence, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the nursing home.
Warren and Casey finished a three-day jury trial on October 17, 2019 involving the condemnation of their clients’ home and several acres of their property. The clients had a 45 acre tract of land improved with a home, several out buildings, and five rental houses in southern Baldwin County, Alabama. A new State highway project took 8.36 acres of land in addition to their home and almost all of the out buildings, leaving 37 acres and all five of the rental houses. The State Department of Transportation put on evidence that it owed only $403,000. Warren and Casey put on evidence through an appraiser that their clients were owed $997,000, and they put on evidence through their owner-client that the amount owed was $1,200,000. The jury returned a verdict for the full $1,200,000. The addition of pre-judgment interest brought the total judgment to $1,277,716.45.
Warren and Casey represented the owners of approximately 141 acres of raw land in south Baldwin County, Alabama. This property was the target of a new highway project which was going to require the State to acquire a little over 16 acres, and require the State to deny access to the remaining 125 acres essentially rendering that remaining land landlocked and useless. The State Department of Transportation offered $4,383,200 as compensation for the taking, but Warren and Casey were able to negotiate a mutually agreeable settlement with the State which involved the State purchasing the entire 141 acre site for $8,250,000.
On September 27, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the action filed in federal district court against the City of Mobile and one of its police officers sued for alleged violation of the plaintiff’s constitutional rights arising from the officer’s investigation of a traffic accident. Tom Gaillard and Bill Watts represented the police officer before the district court and the court of appeals.
In August of 2016 firm members Win Stuardi and Russell Buffkin, representing a local hospital, successfully obtained a defense verdict in a wrongful death action filed against the hospital in Baldwin County Circuit Court. In February of 2018, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the verdict. Firm member Bill Watts handled the appeal on behalf of Thomas Hospital.
Helmsing Leach partner Joe Babington, along with Gregg Mackuse and Heather Giordanella of the Drinker Biddle & Reath law firm in Philadelphia, recently secured summary judgment for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in a case pending in the Northern District of Alabama that involved Janssen’s anti-psychotic medication, Risperdal. In Drake v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharms., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47164 (N.D. Ala. Mar. 22, 2018), the plaintiff, an obese 36-year-old man diagnosed with schizophrenia, claimed that his prescribed use of Risperdal resulted in him developing gynecomastia, the benign enlargement of glandular breast tissue in males. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff could not meet his burden of establishing causation. The judge stressed that the plaintiff was required to prove both general and specific causation and that expert testimony was required for both. The plaintiff’s expert had testified that the risk of gynecomastia in children and adolescents is higher than Risperdal’s labeling represented. As the court noted, however, while the expert’s “report and deposition testimony from other cases might be sufficient to raise a question of fact regarding general causation, . . . his report and testimony contain[ed] no evidence regarding the cause of [the plaintiff’s] alleged injuries. Id. at *13. Moreover, the plaintiff had no other causation expert. As a result, the court found ”the plaintiff’s evidence concerning specific causation [was] threadbare.” Id. In fact, there was no evidence that the plaintiff had even been diagnosed with gynecomastia. In granting summary judgment to Janssen, the court noted that, “[i]n the absence of medical or expert evidence, a fact finder must speculate about the cause of [the plaintiff’s] enlarged breasts, and a verdict may not rest on speculation.” Id.
Firm members Jim Newman and Bill Watts obtained the reversal of a summary judgment on an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court in Rochester-Mobile, LLC v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., 2017 WL 2610508 (Ala. June 16, 2017). In this case of first impression, the Court adopted the Helmsing attorneys’ argument that the term “lease”, as used in the statute (Section 35-4-6, Code of Ala.) requiring the recording of leases with terms longer than 20 years, did not include a sublease. This ruling will serve to preserve as valid any sublease for a term longer than 20 years that was not recorded within one year of its execution, as required under the statute.