In any wrongful death lawsuit, it’s imperative that attorneys adhere to the strict procedural rules of the court. This means filings have to be timely. They have to contain the right information. They have to go to the correct individual or entity. They have to follow a certain order. Dropping the ball on any one of these could have a serious impact on the outcome of a case.
In a recent lawsuit before the Nebraska Supreme Court, this was illustrated when, after the judge granted summary judgment to one of three defendants in a fatal truck accident case, the plaintiff entered a joint stipulation to to dismiss the case without prejudice. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a notice of appeal regarding the earlier summary judgment. However, the state supreme court held that the voluntary dismissal without prejudice didn’t create a final order upon which the plaintiff could base an appeal.
To find that the appellate court had jurisdiction to review the summary judgment in this instance would mean going against long-standing precedent, in which there has to be a final order from which to appeal. That is, the plaintiff can’t move to voluntarily dismiss a case without prejudice, consent to the entry of this order, and then afterward seek appellate review of an earlier pretrial order. The reason for that precedent is that the court wants to avoid piecemeal litigation and a review process that would be substantially weakened.
According to court records in this case, the decedent was a victim of a truck accident in the summer of 2012. The driver of the truck was reportedly distracted for only a moment. Of course, we all know that’s all it takes. He glanced in his mirrors momentarily. When he turned his attention back to the road in front of him, he realized he didn’t have enough time to stop from slamming into the car in front of him.
The vehicle he rear-ended careened off the road and into a nearby ditch, killing the 23-year-old driver. Her husband and 13-month-old daughter were injured but survived.
The driver was convicted for felony manslaughter, although that conviction was later reversed.
The representative for the decedent’s estate (the plaintiff) filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the truck driver, the trucking company for which the driver worked, and also against the construction company that had hired the trucking firm to haul debris from the site.
Trucking accident lawsuits can be complex for precisely this reason. There are often numerous entities and contracts involved, including the driver (who may or may not be an independent contractor), the employer, the truck owner, the carrier, and any other contracting firms or parent companies.
Here, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the construction company. (The reasons aren’t spelled out in the state high court’s ruling.) The plaintiff then agreed to dismiss the cause without prejudice but then failed to actually do so. Then, the court dismissed for exceeding the progression standards, but then the case was reinstated. From there, the plaintiff and the remaining two defendants jointly stipulated to dismiss the construction company without prejudice, providing that the purpose of this was to appeal from the court’s order granting summary judgment to the construction company. The case was dismissed, and the plaintiff appealed.
But, as the trial court order decided – and the state supreme court affirmed – this resulted in a non-final order, over which appellate courts do not have jurisdiction to review. The appeal was dismissed.
Still, the lawsuits against the remaining two defendants may proceed, assuming they are not settled prior to trial.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Addy v. Lopez, Jan. 27, 2017, Nebraska Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
$11M Ladder Injury Verdict Affirmed by Seventh DCA, Jan. 23, 2017, Winston-Salem Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog