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Not so fast, Supreme Court tells trial judges

The facts were different, but in two tort cases today the Supreme Court of Virginia re-emphasized that courts should not dismiss cases too early in the process.

In one, a tenant filed suit against his landlord and a management company alleging that he suffered an eye injury and that his property was destroyed because the landlord failed to abate mold in his apartment.

The trial judge granted the defendants’ demurrer based on their argument that the tenant’s claim for negligent repairs failed because the prior existence of the mold, and not their efforts to abate it, caused his injuries.

The Supreme Court ruled that dismissal of the case was premature because the tenant should have had the opportunity to prove that the repairs were performed in a careless, reckless and negligent manner.

In the second case, the trial judge concluded that a cyclist was negligent as a matter of law because he glanced briefly at his speedometer after seeing a motorist stopped in the left lane, waiting to turn into a school driveway.

The cyclist said he thought he had established eye contact with the driver, but she turned left in front of him and he crashed into her. The driver admitted fault and was convicted of failing to yield the right of way.

In reversing and remanding for a new trial the Supreme Court said, “[W]e take the opportunity to again stress the principle of tort litigation that issues of negligence and proximate cause ordinarily are questions of fact for the jury to determine, rather than questions to be determined by the trial court as a matter of law.”

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