4th Circuit Injury & Tort Law News - U.S. Fourth Circuit
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Charles Harris worked on the sixth floor of the Black Bear Preparation Plant which, sadly, was a coal loading facility, not a bear manufacturing facility. One day, Norfolk Southern railroad, owners of the trains and track receiving coal, backed a train along a corroded section of track. The train derailed, with train cars crashing into the Black Bear loading facility's support beams and sending it, and Harris, crashing to the ground.

Harris sued, alleging that Norfolk Southern was, through its negligence, liable for its injuries. While the railroad had failed to inspect the track as required by federal regulations, that failure alone wasn't enough to establish proximate cause as a matter of law, the Fourth Circuit ruled last week.

Security Services of America is not liable for damages caused by its security guard who burned down a subdivision he was charged with protecting, the Fourth Circuit ruled last Friday. A state law, the Maryland Security Guard Act, did not expand the company's liability beyond traditional doctrines of respondeat superior.

Aaron Speed was working as a security guard with SSA when he and several accomplices committed one of the largest arsons in Maryland history, burning down 10 under-construction houses and damaging 16 others. The racially motivated arson, committed in 2004, caused $10 million in damage. Speed had been hired by SSA to guard the construction site.

Teen's Controversial Penis Pic Prosecution Spawns Defamation Suit

This was already one of the most ridiculous criminal cases to ever come out of Virginia, and now, it has spawned an equally ridiculous civil lawsuit.

Regular readers might recall the case from earlier this year, where Virginia police obtained a warrant to bring a teen to a hospital and photographed his erect penis, using an injection to induce the erection if necessary. The ridiculous warrant was part of an equally ridiculous prosecution of a 17-year-old kid who sent a picture of his penis to his 15-year-old girlfriend. Both send nude pics, but only he was charged.

4 From the 4th: Bank Robber, False Claims Act Qui Tam Case SOL?

We quipped that the Tenth Circuit's two SCOTUS-bound cases were the most boring you'd hear all year long. Apparently, we were wrong. Meet the case that has twin issues: a "first to file" limit on related qui tam actions, as well as a six-year-statute of limitations that bars claims ... except maybe, when we're in wartime. Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter is not a case you'll want to read before operating heavy machinery.

Fortunately, the final case in the Fourth Circuit's four-pack is Whitfield v. U.S., an attempted bank robbery case that includes a botched indictment, a lady who was frightened to death, and a wee bit of statutory interpretation. The second case, folks, is fascinating.

4 From the 4th: SCOTUS Grants Include Pregnancy, Teeth Whitening

Our "SCOTUS Week" coverage continues with the Fourth Circuit, where the Court has granted certiorari in four cases, with a massive amount of petitions still pending, according to CertPool's tracker. And while some of those pending petitions are likely grants and will be among the most heavily watched of the Court's cases (we're thinking King v. Burwell, the Obamacare subsidies case specifically), today we're looking at the birds in hand, not the ones in the bush.

What've we got? How about a bank robber, alleged fraud on the government, pregnancy discrimination, and a state-sanctioned monopoly on teeth whitening.

4th Cir. Revives Lawsuit Against Baltimore PD, Real-Life Det. Munch

Will this be the basis of David Simon's next big hit?

James Owens was set free in 2008, after serving two decades in prison. This week, the Fourth Circuit reinstated his lawsuit over the false conviction, which he says was obtained via the police department and state's attorneys' withholding of exculpatory evidence.

Now, the detectives on the case, who served as inspiration for characters in Simon's first big hit (NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street") as well as his most critically acclaimed masterpiece (HBO's "The Wire"), will be defendants in his lawsuit, along with the Baltimore Police Department and the prosecutor.

Lawyer Rule 60'd Into Sanctions; Other Firm Escapes Malpractice

Note to future lawyers. Here are things you don't do in a deposition, held in an expensive foreign locale, such as Italy: coach witnesses, tell them how to answer questions, or walk out and cancel all remaining depositions without a really good reason.

Such "totally inappropriate" conduct is "deserving of sanctions."

How much in sanctions? Close to a million dollars, with attorneys' fees and expenses included. The original order, however, ordered sanctions against the plaintiffs, not their attorney. After the district court clarified via Rule 60(a), the lawyer's lawyer missed the deadline to appeal.

Lawyer gets stuck with a $1,000,000 tab. Lawyer's lawyer gets a malpractice suit.

What's at Stake in King v. Sibelius? Obamacare (Again)

It's not a matter of mandates versus taxes. Nor is it a religious challenge. This time, it's about Obamacare/Affordable Care Act subsidies, the ones that make healthcare affordable to low-income individuals.

We've noted the general premise of these lawsuits repeatedly: the text of the statute appears to support the notion that unless a state forms its own healthcare exchange, no subsidies were supposed to be available. The IRS took a different view and reinterpreted the statute, making subsidies available to everyone, regardless of whether the person used a federal or state exchange.

The stakes are high: no subsidy, no insurance purchases. No purchases, no mandates, per the terms of the statute. No mandates and no demand, no Obamacare.

Court Can't Seal Case to Protect Accused Company

What do you think of when you hear the name GM? If you've been watching news, you're thinking faulty ignition switches and rolling death traps, even though only thirty-four cars, out of millions recalled, have actually crashed as a result of recalled switches.

Of course, that defect is real. In the case of Company Doe, the report of an allegedly unsafe product, which was linked to a child's death, was labeled "materially inaccurate" by a Maryland federal judge in 2012. He then sealed the case files, hoping to avoid unfairly damaging the company's reputation by releasing the report.

Noble intentions, but with constitutional implications, it seems. The Fourth Circuit yesterday reversed the trial court's ruling and ordered all case files unsealed and unredacted, though likely appeals mean that the public won't hear much about Company Doe or the allegedly defective product any time soon.

Moral of the Story: Get a Black Lung Lawyer

Elk Run, a coal mining company, did something most of us would find reprehensible. When an employee filed for Black Lung benefits, it had three experts analyze his pathology slides. Two provided unfavorable opinions. They went with the third, and handed that evidence to other experts, who found, based on that single report, that the employee, Gary N. Fox, did not have pneumoconiosis. Elk Run presented this at an administrative hearing in 1999.

Fox represented himself, and lost. He did not obtain the two favorable reports in discovery, did not obtain his own reports, and did not cross-examine the unfavorable report's preparer on his qualifications. A few years later, after obtaining counsel, he tried again. This time, he won.

Unfortunately, due to the previous holding, Elk Run is off the hook for all damages prior to the first trip to the Administrative Law Judge. Unless, of course, Fox's surviving spouse can prove that there was a "fraud on the court" to set aside the judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(3), which otherwise places a one-year limit on collateral attacks.