Alabama Appellate Opinions
We are committed to sharing decisions and providing legal updates that may be beneficial to you and your teams. Included below are summaries of cases recently released by Alabama Appellate Courts. Please reach out to any member of our Appellate Practice  group with any questions.

Warm regards,
Team Huie

Alabama Appellate Opinions Release Dates: September 20, 2019
October 4, 2019
Case of Note: Favorable Opinion Obtained from Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals

Huie attorneys  Bart Cannon Phil Collins , and  Alex Parish  recently received a favorable opinion from the  Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals  on behalf of a telecommunications client. A summary of the case is available here , and a copy of the court’s opinion can be found  here .
Alabama Supreme Court
Court Reverses Award of Punitive Damages While Upholding Trial Court’s Finding of Spoliation

Imperial Aluminum-Scottsboro, LLC v. Tyler D. Taylor

This third-party spoliation case stems from an Alabama Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine (“AEMLD”) suit against a paint sprayer manufacturer. The Plaintiff’s third-party spoliation claim arose from an alleged finger injury, leading to amputation, sustained while cleaning a paint sprayer purchased by his employer, Imperial Aluminum (“Imperial”). In preparation for filing his AEMLD suit, Plaintiff’s counsel sent a letter to Imperial requesting that it preserve the spray-gun portion of the paint sprayer. In response to the letter, Imperial stored the paint sprayer in one of its warehouses. After the suit was filed, Imperial’s counsel notified Plaintiff that Imperial had disposed of the sprayer prior to receiving the preservation letter.

Ultimately, Plaintiff dismissed his AEMLD suit and filed a third-party spoliation claim against Imperial. The trial court held that Imperial had lost, destroyed, or disposed of the spray gun after being notified that Plaintiff needed the spray gun as a vital part of proving his AEMLD action and after Imperial had undertaken a duty to preserve the sprayer. The trial court also found that Imperial had attempted to mislead Plaintiff and awarded punitive damages for wanton behavior.

On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the findings of the trial court in relation to the third-party spoliation claim but overturned the award for punitive damages. The Court found that by instructing its employees to move the sprayer to a warehouse and preserve it, Imperial had undertaken a duty to preserve the sprayer. While there was mixed evidence regarding what exactly Imperial did with the sprayer, the trial court was in the best position to judge the credibility of the witnesses and the evidence in finding that Imperial knew the sprayer was necessary evidence, that Imperial undertook to preserve it, and that at some point lost or disposed of the sprayer.

However, the Court overturned the trial court’s award of punitive damages. In a third-party spoliation action, punitive damages arise from the third parties’ conduct in relation to the Plaintiff. Although there was evidence that Imperial was not forthright with Plaintiff, the Court found that Imperial’s behavior toward the Plaintiff did not establish wanton conduct and reversed the trial court’s ruling as to punitive damages.
Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
Court Holds Jury May Consider Payment of Plaintiff’s Medical Expenses in Awarding Damages 

Bell v. Moore

Generally, a verdict awarding damages must include an amount that is more than uncontradicted special damages plus an amount sufficient to compensate for pain and suffering. However, in this case, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals held that the amount of recoverable damages may be less than the medical expenses incurred when an insurance company has paid some of these claimed medical expenses.

On August 4, 2017, Erwin Moore filed a Complaint against Shawn Bell for negligence and wantonness concerning a rear-end collision resulting in a T6-7 disk herniation. At trial, the parties stipulated that Bell was liable for causing the collision, leaving only damages at issue.

It was undisputed that Moore’s total medical expenses concerning the collision exceeded $40,000 but Moore admitted that his insurance carrier paid for most of his medical treatment. Moore also argued he would have to reimburse his insurance carrier a specified amount if he recovered damages. Nevertheless, the jury awarded Moore only $40,000 in damages. Moore filed a motion for a new trial asserting that the jury’s award was inadequate because it failed to account for his total medical bills and his claim for pain and suffering. The trial court granted the motion and the defendant appealed.

On appeal, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals held that even though it was uncontradicted that Moore’s medical expenses exceeded $40,000, he admitted that his insurance company paid most of these expenses. In reversing the trial court, the Court noted the jury verdict was not the result of “passion, prejudice, or other improper motive” and thus was presumed to be correct because the jury was free to consider that most of Moore’s medical expenses had been paid by his insurance carrier. 
Court Finds Judgment as a Matter of Law Was Improper Where Contributory Negligence Had Not Been Fully Established

Princess Hawkins v. Jimmy Simmons and Worry Free Comfort System, Inc., d/b/a Freedom Heating & Cooling

This case involved a pedestrian who was struck while walking on the right side of traffic while going through a tunnel. The incident occurred at approximately 11:45 a.m. on a sunny day. The Plaintiff claimed the Defendant would have seen her if he had been paying attention. The Defendant claimed he was watching the road but the glare of the sun, combined with a change in lighting as he first entered the tunnel, kept him from being able to see the Plaintiff. The Defendant claimed the Plaintiff was negligent per se because she was walking with traffic rather than against it, in violation of a statute which requires a pedestrian to walk facing traffic if there is no sidewalk.

The trial court granted the Defendant’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of law (“JML”) at the close of evidence because it found the Plaintiff’s contributory negligence was a proximate cause of the accident.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court after determining the JML was premature because there was a question of fact as to whether Plaintiff’s negligence was a contributing cause of the injury. Specifically, the Defendant testified that even if Plaintiff had been walking towards him, he would not have been able to see her. The Court found that because a reasonable jury could have found that the Plaintiff would have been struck even if she was not violating the statute, there remained a question of fact and the JML was improper.

The Court also emphasized that opinion testimony, even if uncontroverted, is not binding on the jury. Even though a violation of a statute occurred, the jury still had to determine whether this violation was the proximate cause of the injury. While a police officer offered opinion testimony that Plaintiff’s negligence did contribute to causing the accident, the Court found the jury could have found that the conduct of the Plaintiff did not cause the accident.
Court Rejects “Return-to-Work” and Last-Injurious-Exposure Arguments 

AMEC Foster Wheeler Kamtech, Inc. v. Chandler 

In this matter, a former specialty welder (“the claimant”) filed a workers’ compensation claim against AMEC Foster Wheeler Kamtech, Inc. (“AMEC”), concerning back pain that he sustained while lifting a pipe on the job. The claimant’s physician found he had suffered from degenerative changes in his spine and had protrusions at the C6-7, T7-8, and L4-5.

Although the claimant continued to work at AMEC, he was placed on light duty in compliance with his physician’s restrictions. He left AMEC in January 2016 but worked for three other employers in between January 2016 and July 2018. However, he was not working at the time of trial. Ultimately, the trial court awarded the claimant workers’ compensation benefits based on a finding that he had a suffered a 35% vocational disability.

AMEC made three arguments on appeal. First, the trial court’s award of workers’ compensation benefits based on vocational disability was erroneous because the claimant returned to work for an equal or higher hourly wage after his injury. Specifically, AMEC contended that the “return-to-work statute,” Ala. Code § 25-5-57(a)(3)(i), limited the trial court to awarding the claimant benefits based solely on his physical impairment. The Court rejected this argument, emphasizing that when the employee is no longer working at the time of the initial disability determination, the return-to-work statute does not apply. Because the claimant was not actively employed at the time of trial, the Court found that he had not “returned to work.”

Second, AMEC argued the last-injurious-exposure rule was implicated when the claimant admitted on cross-examination that his back felt worse after working in subsequent employment. Under the last injurious exposure rule, “the carrier covering the risk at the time of the most recent compensable injury bearing a causal relation to the disability bears the responsibility to make the required workers' compensation payments.” AMEC argued the claimant suffered a second injury to his back as a result of his subsequent employment which precluded him from recovering. However, the Court rejected this argument and held the testimony showed that the claimant suffered a “recurrence” of the symptoms of his injury rather than a second injury.

Finally, AMEC argued the trial court’s determination of the maximum medical improvement (“MMI”) date was not supported by the evidence because it was different from the date specified by the claimant’s physician. However, under Alabama law, “a trial court is not bound by a physician's determination of an MMI date.” Therefore, the Court affirmed.
"The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day. Never let your correspondence fall behind."  ~Abraham Lincoln
No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.
Huie: Stand Firm