Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

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Guerline Felix’s vehicle collided with Brian Richards’ vehicle in New Jersey. Richards was insured under a New Jersey automobile insurance policy issued by AAA Mid-Atlantic Insurance Company (AAA). The policy provided bodily injury (BI) liability coverage, as well as uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. Felix was insured by the Government Employee Insurance Company (GEICO) under a policy written in Florida. That policy provided up to $10,000 in property liability and personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, but it did not provide any BI liability. Felix sued Richards for personal injuries, and, in a separate action, Richards sued Felix and AAA for personal injuries. AAA then filed a third-party complaint against GEICO, claiming that GEICO’s policy was automatically deemed to include $15,000/$30,000 in BI coverage and that payment would eliminate the claim for UM/UIM coverage by AAA. The motion court determined that the New Jersey "deemer" statute applied to GEICO’s policy, rejecting the argument that the statute created a carve-out for BI coverage based upon the basic policy, as well as GEICO’s constitutional challenge. The Appellate Division affirmed, and the New Jersey Supreme Court granted the petition for certification filed by GEICO. The Supreme Court concluded after review that the deemer statute did not incorporate by reference the basic policy’s BI level for insurers, like GEICO, to which the second sentence of N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4 applied. From the perspective of the insurers’ obligation, the required compulsory insurance liability limits remained $15,000/$30,000. As to the equal protection claim, New Jersey insureds were the ones who had a choice to purchase less than the presumptive minimum BI amount. The obligation of in-state insurers to offer and provide that minimum was the same as the obligation imposed under the deemer statute’s second sentence on authorized insurers writing an out-of-state policy. "The equal protection claim therefore falls flat," and the Appellate Division's judgment was affirmed. View "Felix v. Richards" on Justia Law

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RW Trucking pumped fracking water from frac tanks at oil-well sites and hauled it away for disposal. Jason Metz worked as a driver for RW Trucking. When his trailer reached capacity, Metz turned off the pump and disengaged the hose. According to Metz, he then left a ticket in the truck of another well-site worker, David Garza. Metz testified that as he began walking back to his truck’s cab from its passenger side, and about sixty feet from the frac tanks, he flicked his lighter to light a cigarette. This ignited fumes and caused a flash fire that injured Garza (as well as Metz and another nearby RW Trucking employee). In this appeal and cross-appeal, the issue presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was which of two insurers’ insurance policies covered bodily injuries. Carolina Casualty Insurance Company and Burlington Insurance Company had earlier issued policies to RW Trucking. By design, the two policies dovetailed each other’s coverage. Each insurer contended that the other was solely liable to indemnify the insureds, RW Trucking and Metz, for damages arising from Garza’s bodily injuries suffered in the fire. After Burlington and Carolina jointly settled Garza’s claims, with each reserving its rights against the other, Carolina filed this declaratory-judgment action, contending that it had no duty to defend or indemnify RW Trucking or Metz, and seeking reimbursement of its paid portion of Garza’s settlement. On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled: (1) that Carolina owed a duty to defend but not a duty to indemnify; (2) Burlington owed a duty to indemnify (and so implicitly, also a duty to defend); (3) that Carolina paid its share of the settlement as a volunteer, disabling itself from recovering its portion of the settlement payment from Burlington; and (4) that Carolina owed Burlington for half the total defense costs. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court as to the duty-to-defend and voluntary-payment issues, and affirmed on the duty-to-indemnify issue. The Court remanded with the instruction that the district court vacate its judgment granting Burlington reimbursement of half its defense costs. View "Carolina Casualty Ins. Co. v. Burlington Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In this defamation action, the Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Defendant's anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss, holding that the district court erred in finding that Defendant failed to satisfy prong one of the anti-SLAPP analysis so as to shift the burden to Plaintiff to demonstrate that the claims should be allowed to proceed. Third-party comments posted to Defendant's Facebook page criticized Plaintiff for his handling of wild bears in his capacity as a biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Based on these comments, Plaintiff sued. Defendant moved to dismiss the claims pursuant to an anti-SLAPP special motion to dismiss. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in determining that the comments at issue were not in the public interest and were not made in good faith and that Defendant met her burden under the first prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis. View "Stark v. Lackey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered in the negative questions of law certified from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee regarding the constitutionality of Tennessee's statutory cap on noneconomic damages, Tenn. Code Ann. 29-30-102, holding that the statutory cap does not violate the right to trial by jury, the doctrine of separation of powers, or the equal protection provisions of the Tennessee Constitution. Specifically, the Supreme Court answered (1) the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by section 29-39-102 does not violate a plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury, as guaranteed in Tenn. Const. art. I, 6; (2) the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by section 29-39-102 does violate Tennessee’s constitutional doctrine of separation of powers between the legislative branch and the judicial branch; and (3) the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by section 29-39-102 does not violate the Tennessee Constitution by discriminating disproportionately against women. View "McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the fair and accurate reporting privilege protects news reports about statements on a matter of public concern made by law enforcement officers at an official press conference in an official press release. After Defendant was arrested in connection with a murder three law enforcement agencies held a press conference to announce Defendant's arrest and to discuss the investigation. That same day, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety issued a corresponding press release. Defendant was later released from jail and cleared as a suspect. Defendant sued Respondents for defamation based on their news coverage about his arrest. A jury found for Respondents. The district court set the jury verdict aside and ordered a new trial. The court of appeals reversed and reinstated the judgment for Respondents. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) out of the eleven alleged defamatory statements in the news reports the fair and accurate reporting privilege applies to seven statements; and (2) the jury instructions and special verdict form did not adequately set forth the relevant factors that the jury should consider in determining whether the privilege was defeated for lack of fairness and substantial accuracy, and the error was prejudicial as to five of the seven statements. View "Larsen v. Gannett Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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In the early morning hours of March 10, 2012, as hundreds of people emptied out of bars and concert venues in Wichita’s Old Town neighborhood at closing time, two Wichita Police Officers fatally shot Marquez Smart. Smart’s estate and heirs sued the City of Wichita, along with Officers Lee Froese and Aaron Chaffee, alleging the officers used excessive force. Smart. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Officers Froese and Chaffee on the basis of qualified immunity, reasoning that although the jury could find that the officers had violated Smart’s right to be free from excessive force, the officers had not violated clearly established law under the facts presented. The district court also granted summary judgment in favor of the City. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined there was evidence from which the jury could conclude that the officers were mistaken in their belief that Smart was an active shooter. And there was also evidence from which the jury could conclude, with the benefit of hindsight, their mistake was not reasonable. The court affirmed summary judgment as to all defendants on the first two claims of violation of constitutional rights, and as to Officer Froese and the City with respect to the third claim. But the Court reversed judgment as to Officer Chaffee on Smart’s claim that Officer Chaffee fired the final shots after it would have been apparent to a reasonable officer that Smart was no longer a threat. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Smart v. City of Wichita" on Justia Law

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In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wyoming’s anti-indemnity statute would not defeat possible insurance coverage to an additional insured. In this second appeal and cross-appeal, the issue presented for the Court's review centered on whether the district court correctly ruled that additional-insured coverage existed under the applicable insurance policies; whether the district court entered judgment for the additional insured in an amount greater than the policy limits; and whether the district court correctly ruled that the additional insured was not entitled to prejudgment interest and attorneys’ fees. Ultra Resources, Inc. held a lease for a Wyoming well site. In January 2007, Ultra contracted with Upstream International, LLC under a Master Service Agreement to manage the well site. The Ultra-Upstream contract required Upstream to obtain insurance policies with a stated minimum amount of coverage for Ultra and Ultra’s contractors and subcontractors. To do so, Upstream obtained two policies from Lexington Insurance Company - a General Liability Policy (“General Policy”) and a Commercial Umbrella Policy (“Umbrella Policy”). Lexington issued and delivered the two policies in Texas. Ultra contracted with Precision Drilling (“Precision”) to operate a drilling rig at the well site. Precision maintained a separate insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London (“Lloyd’s”), covering Precision for primary and excess liability. Upstream employed Darrell Jent as a contract management of some Ultra well sites. Jent assumed that Precision employees had already attached and tightened all A-leg bolts on a rig platform. In fact, Precision employees had loosened the A-leg bolts (which attach the A-legs to the derrick) and had not properly secured these bolts. After supervising the pin removal, Jent had just left the rig floor and reached “the top step leading down from the rig floor” when the derrick fell because of the “defectively bolted ‘A- legs’ attaching the derrick to the rig floor.” Jent was seriously injured after being thrown from the steps, and sued Precision for negligence. Precision demanded that Ultra defend and indemnify it as required by the Ultra-Precision drilling contract. Ultra, in turn, demanded that Upstream defend Precision under the insurance policies required by the Ultra-Upstream Contract. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court ruled correctly on each issue presented, so it affirmed. View "Lexington Insurance Company v. Precision Drilling Company" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) and dismissing Plaintiff's claims for wrongful discharge from employment, violation of Montana constitutional and administrative rights to privacy, and tortious defamation, holding that the district court did not err. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) no genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether DOC discharged Plaintiff for good cause, and therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim; (2) no genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether DOC discharged Plaintiff in violation of its written personnel policy, and therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim; (3) the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim that DOC violated her right to privacy under Mont. Const. art. II, 10 and Admin. R. M. 2.21.6615; and (4) the district court did not err in concluding that derogatory statements made by DOC to the Montana Peace Officer Standards and Training Council were privileged under Mont. Code Ann. 27-1-804(2). View "Speer v. State, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court denying a tribal entity's motion to dismiss a tort action against it, holding that the tribal entity did not prove it was a subordinate economic organization entitled to share the Indian tribe's sovereign immunity. Sara Fox was seriously injured while rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Fox suffered her injuries on Arizona state land. The rafting boat was operated by Grand Canyon Resort Corporation (GCRC), a tribal corporation whose sole shareholder was a federal recognized Indian tribe, the Hualapai Indian Tribe. Fox and her husband filed suit against GCRC and the Tribe. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction because Defendants possessed sovereign immunity from suit. The trial court dismissed the complaint against the Tribe but declined to dismiss the complaint against GCRC, finding it was not protected by sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that GCRC failed to carry its burden to show it was a subordinate economic organization of the Tribe so that a denial of immunity would "appreciably impair" the Tribe's "economic development, cultural autonomy, or self-governance." View "Hwal'Bay Ba: J Enterprises, Inc. v. Honorable Jantzen" on Justia Law

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In this insurance dispute, the First Circuit directed entry of summary judgment for Zurich American Insurance Company, holding that Zurich's decision to deny the insured's claim was supported by substantial evidence. Denise Arruda filed a claim for death benefits following the death of her husband, Joseph Arruda, in a car accident. Zurich denied the claim, concluding that Joseph's death was not within the coverage clause of the policy because the death was not independent of all other causes and that it was caused or contributed to by his pre-existing health conditions. Denise brought this action under 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B) alleging that Zurich violated ERISA by denying the insurance benefits. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of Denise, concluding that substantial evidence did not support Zurich's decision. The First Circuit reversed, holding that Zurich's conclusion that Joseph's death was caused or contributed to by pre-existing medical conditions was not arbitrary or capricious and was supported by substantial evidence. View "Arruda v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law