General Tort Liability Litigation

Goodell DeVries Prevails in Precedential Defamation Case in the Court of Special Appeals

Shannon M. Madden, Craig S. Brodsky, and M. Peggy Chu secured an appellate victory for the Rockville Football League, a youth football organization, and its president Eric Heckman, in a defamation action brought by a coach who was suspended after the league investigated complaints of his misbehavior and dismissed him from coaching.  The league and Mr. Heckman prevailed on summary judgment when the Circuit Court for Montgomery County agreed that they were entitled to evaluate fully and fairly the reported conduct of the league’s coaching staff, without being subjected to a trial for alleged defamation.  The Court found that the conditional common interest privilege applied to the Board’s statements made during its evaluation process and plaintiff could not overcome the privilege because the Board did not act with malice.  In a reported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals unanimously affirmed the circuit court.  Shirley v. Heckman, NO. 633 SEPT. TERM 2012, --- A.3d ---, 2013 WL 4777321 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Sept. 6, 2013).  Significantly, the opinion represents the first instance in which a Maryland appellate court has held that the standard for proving abuse of the fair reporting and fair comment privileges, enunciated by the Court of Appeals in Piscatelli v. Smith, 424 Md. 294 (2012), applies equally to the common interest privilege.  Thus, Maryland claimants seeking to prove defamation and abuse of the common interest privilege must establish not only that the comment at issue constitutes defamation, but further that the defendant made a false statement with both actual knowledge of its falsity and with the intent to deceive others.


Goodell DeVries Obtains Key Appellate Win in District of Columbia for Elevator Manufacturer: Decision Clarifies D.C. Law on Overlapping Doctrines of Contributory Negligence and Assumption of the Risk

For the second time in two weeks, the Goodell DeVries appellate team secured a major victory in the highest court of a local jurisdiction. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Phillips v. Fujitec America. Inc. et al., 3 A.3d 324 (D.C. 2010), affirming summary judgment for Goodell DeVries' client, an elevator manufacturer, and several co-defendants. Each was accused of negligence after a young woman tragically fell to her death while trying to climb out of an elevator cab that had stalled between floors of a building she was visiting. Sidney G. Leech won summary judgment in the District of Columbia Superior Court, arguing that the decedent was contributorily negligent and had assumed the risk of injury by climbing out of the elevator instead of listening to instructions to wait for help to arrive. Mr. Leech also argued the case on appeal. Derek M. Stikeleather assisted with the trial court and appellate briefing.

The trial court found that the decedent’s assumption of the risk barred any recovery by her parents and granted summary judgment to all defendants. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that because the trial court had affirmatively stated it could not grant summary judgment on contributory negligence, the decedent could not have assumed the risk of injury as a matter of law. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals rejected the trial court’s reasoning but affirmed its result. It held that the trial court’s legal analysis of contributory negligence was incorrect because the decedent was contributorily negligent as a matter of law. The opinion, published by the Court as binding precedent, clarifies District of Columbia law on the interplay between the overlapping doctrines of contributory negligence and assumption of the risk. It also provides important guidance on when summary judgment is appropriate in the District under either doctrine.


Goodell DeVries Establishes that Client was not Negligent in Slip and Fall Case

On May 21, 2010, Richard L. Nilsson obtained a defense verdict for one of the firm's clients in the Circuit Court for Carroll County. The client recycled used restaurant grease to be used for other environmentally friendly purposes. The plaintiff alleged that he slipped and fell on grease while nearby one of the client's collection receptacles that was being used by a local restaurant, and that the fall caused him to herniate two discs in his lower back. As a result of the injuries alleged, the plaintiff claimed that he was off from work for two years, had a diminution in his wage-earning capacity for the rest of his life, incurred considerable past medical expenses, and would incur similar medical expenses in the future due to his claimed permanent injuries.

The defense presented evidence that there were questions regarding whether the plaintiff actually slipped on grease and that the client had a reasonable and prudent spill policy. Evidence was also presented that the client could not have caused the alleged spill, that they were not otherwise responsible for the spill claimed by the plaintiff, that they had no notice of any spill, and that they did not breach any other duty of care owed to the plaintiff. On the fourth day of trial, and after deliberating for about one hour and 45 minutes, the jury returned its verdict in favor of the client.


Goodell DeVries Obtains Defense Verdict in Premises Liability Case

On June 25, 2008, Constantine J. Themelis obtained a defense verdict in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on behalf of a bakery.  Plaintiff, a customer in a grocery store, alleged he was negligently knocked down by a bakery employee who was transporting two loaded bread carts.  The plaintiff alleged that he sustained a fracture to his left hip and claimed permanent disability as a result of this incident.  After less than thirty minutes, the jury concluded that the bakerywas not negligent.


Goodell DeVries Secures Summary Judgment for Fraternal Organization in Allegations of Molestation

In Vollmerhausen v. Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons of Maryland, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City granted summary judgment to Goodell DeVries' client. The fraternal organization was named in the case with allegations that a teenage boy was molested in connection with activities relating to a young men's organization known as DeMolay. After plaintiff failed to establish that there was an adequate connection between the fraternal organization and DeMolay, and failed to establish any act of negligence on the part of the Grand Lodge, the court granted summary judgment.