Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

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After initially disputing that a corrections officer was permanently and totally disabled from injuries suffered at work, the State conceded his disability status. The parties did not enter into a written settlement or stipulation because they disagreed about the amount of attorney’s fees the State should pay the officer’s attorney. After a hearing the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board awarded attorney’s fees under AS 23.30.145(a) in two parts: it awarded a specific amount of fees for work up to the time of the hearing and statutory minimum fees of 10% of ongoing benefits as long as the officer received permanent total disability benefits. The State appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, which affirmed the Board’s decision because in the Commission’s view the award was not manifestly unreasonable. The State then appealed the Commission’s decision to us. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission. View "Alaska Department of Corrections v. Wozniak" on Justia Law

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The primary issue in consolidated appeals was the scope of an automobile insurance policy’s arbitration provision. Two insureds with identical Allstate Insurance Company medical payments and uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) insurance coverage settled with their respective at-fault drivers for applicable liability insurance policy limits and then made medical payments and UIM benefits claims to Allstate. Allstate and the insureds were unable to resolve the UIM claims and went to arbitration as the policy required. The arbitration panels initially answered specific questions submitted about the insureds’ accident-related damages. At the insureds’ requests but over Allstate’s objections, the panels later calculated what the panels believed Allstate ultimately owed the insureds under their medical payments and UIM coverages and issued final awards. Allstate filed superior court suits to confirm the initial damages calculations, reject the final awards as outside the arbitration panels’ authority, and have the court determine the total amounts payable to the insureds under their policies. The judge assigned to both suits affirmed the final arbitration awards; Allstate appealed both decisions. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the arbitration panels had no authority to determine anything beyond the insureds’ damages arising from their accidents and because Allstate withheld its consent for the panels to determine anything else, the Court reversed the superior court’s decisions and judgments. The Supreme Court also reversed some aspects of the superior court’s separate analysis and rulings on legal issues that the panels improperly decided. Given (1) the arbitration panels’ damages calculations and (2) the Supreme Court's clarification of legal issues presented, the cases were remanded for the superior court to determine the amount, if any, Allstate had to pay each insured under their medical payments and UIM coverages. View "Allstate Insurance Company v. Harbour" on Justia Law

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Inna Khodorkovskaya sued the director and the playwright of Kleptocracy, a play that ran for a month in 2019 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. She alleged false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Inna, who was a character in Kleptocracy, alleges that the play falsely depicted her as a prostitute and murderer. Inna’s husband was persecuted because of his opposition to Vladimir Putin; the two obtained asylum in the U.K.The district court dismissed her complaint, reasoning that Kleptocracy is a fictional play, even if inspired by historical events, and that the play employed various dramatic devices underscoring its fictional character so that no reasonable audience member would understand the play to communicate that the real-life Inna was a prostitute or murderer. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. “Kleptocracy is not journalism; it is theater. It is, in particular, a theatrical production for a live audience, a genre in which drama and dramatic license are generally the coin of the realm.” The play’s use of a fictional and metaphorical tiger, of Vladimir Putin reciting poetry, and of a ghost reinforce to the reasonable audience member that the play’s contents cannot be taken literally. View "Khodorkovskaya v. Gay" on Justia Law

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Stacie Murray was driving home from work in the northbound lane on Highway 35 in Scott County, Mississippi. Kevin Parker, while in the course and scope of his employment with James Gray d/b/a Gray Trucking (Gray), was driving a fully loaded log truck in the southbound lane. The two vehicles collided. Murray sued Parker and Gray alleging she suffered personal injuries and property damage as a result of Parker’s negligence. The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review centered on whether allowing cross-examination of an expert witness with the accident report and a judicial opinion from another case amounted to reversible error. The Court also considered whether cumulative error required a new trial. James Hannah testified for Murray as an expert in accident reconstruction. Hannah testified that he visited the accident scene about two months after the accident and found a “gouge mark” in the highway that, in his opinion, indicated the area of impact. Hannah admitted that the highway patrolman who investigated the wreck, Trooper Greg Lucas, did not find or photograph a gouge mark. Hannah also admitted that he did not know whether the gouge mark was actually caused by the collision. Gray and Parker filed a pretrial motion to exclude Hannah’s testimony and opinions regarding the alleged gouge mark. They argued that Hannah’s testimony was based on “mere speculation” and was neither relevant nor reliable. But the trial court denied the motion and allowed Hannah to testify about the gouge mark. Over Murray’s objections, defense counsel cross-examined Hannah regarding the Uniform Crash Report (UCR) (i.e., the accident report) that Trooper Lucas prepared after the accident. The jury returned a nine-to-three verdict in favor of Gray and Parker. Murray filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. The Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals properly concluded that “[b]ecause Trooper Lucas was not qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction, his opinions on the paths of the subject vehicles and fault did not satisfy Rule 803(8)’s trustworthiness requirement. Accordingly, the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the UCR’s narrative and diagram.” Further, the Court of Appeal properly concluded the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the cross-examination of Hannah because “it had no relevance to the present case and yet created a risk of unfair prejudice, misleading the jury, and confusing the issues.” The Court found Murray was entitled to a new trial. View "Murray v. James Gray d/b/a Gray Trucking" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's reduction of a damages award in favor of Appellant in a medical negligence case against University Physician Associates (UPA) and various physicians (collectively, the Physicians), holding that the circuit court did not err.Appellant filed this lawsuit alleging that the Physicians acted negligently in the Caesarean delivery of her child and in her postpartum care. The jury allocated 100 percent of fault to the Physicians and awarded $30,000 in past economic damages, $300,000 in past non-economic damages, and $700,000 in future non-economic damages. The circuit court concluded that Mo. Rev. Stat. 538.210.2(2)'s non-economic damages for catastrophic personal injury applied and reduced the non-economic damages award from $1 million to $748,828. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 538.210's non-economic damage caps do not violate Mo. Const. art. I, 22(a); and (2) the Physicians' points on appeal lacked merit. View "Ordinola Velazquez v. University Physician Associates" on Justia Law

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Two former employees of Michael Morse and his firm, Michael J. Morse, PC, sued Morse for workplace sexual harassment, including sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligence, gross negligence, and wanton and willful misconduct; and civil conspiracy. In both cases, the firm moved to dismiss and compel arbitration on the basis that both women signed the firm’s Mandatory Dispute Resolution Procedure agreement (MDRPA) prior to accepting employment with the firm. The trial court granted defendants' motion in each case, concluding that the arbitration agreement was valid and enforceable and that the claims were related to the employees' employment and therefore subject to arbitration. A majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiffs’ claims of sexual assault were not subject to arbitration because sexual assault was not “related to” plaintiffs’ employment. Further, the Court of Appeals stated that the fact that the alleged assaults would not have occurred but for plaintiffs’ employment with the firm did not provide a sufficient nexus between the terms of the arbitration agreement and the alleged sexual assaults. "Defendants noted certain facts that supported connections between plaintiffs’ claims and their employment, including that the alleged assaults occurred at work or work-related functions. But those facts did not necessarily make plaintiffs’ claims relative to employment; rather, the facts had to be evaluated under a standard that distinguished claims relative to employment from claims not relative to employment. This analysis prevents the absurdity of an arbitration clause that bars the parties from litigating any matter, regardless of how unrelated to the substance of the agreement, and it ensures that the mere existence of a contract does not mean that every dispute between the parties is arbitrable. Neither the circuit courts nor the Court of Appeals considered this standard when evaluating defendants’ motions to compel arbitration." Rather than apply this newly adopted approach in the first instance, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Court of Appeals and remanded the cases to the circuit courts so that those courts could analyze defendants’ motions to compel arbitration by determining which of plaintiffs’ claims could be maintained without reference to the contract or employment relationship. View "Lichon v. Morse" on Justia Law

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The defendant-employer, Steel Technologies, Inc., asked the Michigan Supreme Court to consider whether a medical professional’s conclusory declaration of a claimant’s total disability, without more, could provide competent, material, and substantial evidence of “disability,” as defined by the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq. The Supreme Court declined to do so because under the facts of this case, it was unnecessary to reach that issue. The Court instead vacated Part IV of the Court of Appeals’ opinion discussing the issue, but affirmed its result: the magistrate relied on competent, material, and substantial evidence to find that the plaintiff-claimant, Ahmed Omer, had established a disability and was entitled to wage-loss benefits. View "Omer v. Steel Technologies Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that prison officials ignored his repeated medical complaints and denied him meaningful treatment, leading to his collapse and major surgery. Plaintiff alleged a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim against the United States for medical negligence, as well as a Bivens claim against certain individuals involved in his care for deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment.The Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court erroneously dismissed the FTCA claim because plaintiff did not secure a certification from a medical expert before filing suit, as required by West Virginia law. As two of its sister circuits have concluded, state-law certification requirements like West Virginia's are inconsistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and thus displaced by those rules in federal court. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the FTCA claim.The court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment to individual defendants on plaintiff's Bivens claims. The district court reasoned that plaintiff could not establish deliberate indifference as a matter of law. However, the court concluded that the district court did not first provide plaintiff, who proceeded pro se, with proper notice of his obligation to support his claims or an opportunity to seek discovery. Accordingly, the court vacated this portion of the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings on the Bivens claims. View "Pledger v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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Appellant, the City of Johnstown ("Johnstown"), contended that a party asserting a firefighter cancer claim had to satisfy the requirements of both Section 301(c)(2) and Section 301(f) of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act to establish a viable claim. Michael Sevanick was a firefighter for Johnstown for twenty-nine years. After retirement, he worked a a car dealership. Nine years after he retired, Sevanick was diagnosed with kidney cancer. In 2016, he filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, alleging that his cancer was caused by exposure to a carcinogen recognized as a Group 1 carcinogen by IARC during his time as a firefighter. The Workers' Compensation Judge found in Sevanick's favor, and Johnstown appealed. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board found that Section 301(c)(2) did not apply, but rather that the limitations of Sevanick's claim were governed by Section 301(f). The Board reasoned that Section 301(f) created a new timeframe for cancer-related occupational disease claims made by firefighters. Because Sevanick raised his claim well within 600 weeks from his last date of employment as a firefighter, the Board concluded the claim was timely. The Commonwealth Court agreed with that determination. Johnstown petitioned for Allowance of Appeal for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether a firefighter making a claim under Section 108(r) of the Act had to comply with the timing requirements of Section 301(c)(2). The Supreme Court concluded that the time for filing a Section 108(r) firefighter cancer claim was governed by Section 301(f) alone. Therefore, the Commonwealth Court's ruling was affirmed. View "City of Johnstown v. WCAB (Sevanick)" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on the proper application of the statute of limitations to a tort action filed by Renee’ Rice against the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and its bishops (collectively, the “Diocese”) for their alleged role in covering up and facilitating a series of alleged sexual assaults committed by the Reverend Charles Bodziak. Rice alleged that Bodziak sexually abused her from approximately 1974 through 1981. She did not file suit against Bodziak or the Diocese until June 2016, thirty-five years after the alleged abuse stopped. The Supreme Court concluded that a straightforward application of Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations required that Rice’s complaint be dismissed as untimely. View "Rice v. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown" on Justia Law