Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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Petitioner Theodore Morrison had surgery on his right knee in 2004 after injuring it at work. He returned to work after the surgery and did not consult a doctor about that knee for almost ten years, until he again injured it in 2014 while working for a different employer. Following the 2014 injury he sought to have arthroscopic surgery as his doctor recommended. His 2014 employer disputed its liability for continued medical care, and the worker filed a written claim against the 2014 employer. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board joined the earlier employer to the claim and decided, after a hearing, that the 2014 work injury was the substantial cause of the worker’s current need for medical care, requiring the 2014 employer to pay the cost of treatment for the right knee. The 2014 employer appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, which decided the Board misapplied the new compensability standard and remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings. Morrison petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court for review of the Commission’s decision, and the Supreme Court reversed the Commission’s decision and reinstated the Board’s award. Based on the medical testimony, the Court found the Board identified two possible causes of Morrison’s need for medical treatment at the time of the hearing. It then considered the extent to which the two causes contributed to that need and decided the 2014 injury was the more important cause of the need for treatment then. "The legislature gave the Board discretion to assign a cause based on the evidence before it. The Board did here what the statute directs." View "Morrison v. Alaska Interstate Construction Inc." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board denied a Bryce Warnke-Green's request that his employer pay for a van modified to accommodate his work-related disability. On appeal, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission decided that a modifiable van was a compensable medical benefit. Warnke-Green moved for attorney’s fees. The Commission reduced the attorney’s hourly rate, deducted a few time entries, and awarded him less than half of what was requested. Warnke-Green asked the Commission to reconsider its award, but the Commission declined to do so because of its view that the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) allowed it to reconsider only the final decision on the merits of an appeal. The Alaska Supreme Court granted Warnke-Green's petition for review, and held that the Commission had the necessarily incidental authority to reconsider its non-final decisions. The Court also reversed the Commission’s award of attorney’s fees and remanded for an award that was fully compensable and reasonable. View "Warnke-Green v. Pro-West Contractors, LLC" on Justia Law

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An employer asked medical specialists to evaluate a worker with injuries to different body systems arising out of one work-related accident. The doctors gave two separate opinions, almost a year apart, about final medical stability and relevant permanent impairment ratings in their separate specialities. The employer paid no compensation based on the impairment ratings until almost three months after the second impairment rating. The worker asked the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board to order a penalty for late payment of impairment-related compensation benefits, but the Board agreed with the employer that no impairment-related compensation was payable until the employer obtained a combined impairment rating. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission reversed the Board’s decision, concluding that initial impairment-related compensation was payable upon notice of the first impairment rating and further impairment-related compensation was payable upon notice of the second impairment rating. The employer appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Unisea, Inc. v. Morales" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Charles Herron, who was under the influence of alcohol and not old enough to legally possess or consume it, was involved in a single-vehicle accident in Bethel, Alaska A 15-year-old passenger in Herron’s vehicle, Angelina Trailov, was injured. Herron was insured by Allstate Insurance Company. Allstate filed a complaint for declaratory relief in the U.S. District Court in anticipation of Herron confessing judgment in the accident-related personal injury suit. Allstate requested a declaration that “its good faith attempt to settle Trailov and Mary Kenick's (Trailov's mother) claims satisfied its obligation to its insured, and a further declaration that Allstate [wa]s not obligated to pay any portion of the confessed judgment that exceed[ed] the limit of the bodily injury coverage afforded Herron under the [p]olicy.” Due to Herron’s April confession of judgment and assignment of claims, Allstate amended its federal complaint for declaratory relief. The only material addition was the statement that Herron had confessed judgment and assigned his rights against Allstate. The issue this case presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review centered on the preclusive effect of that declaratory judgment in favor of the insurance company against its insured in federal court in a subsequent state court proceeding. The superior court concluded that the declaratory judgment had no preclusive effect on a negligent adjustment action brought in state court by the insured’s assignees against the insurance company and its claims adjuster. The state action proceeded to an 11-day jury trial ending with a multi-million dollar verdict against the insurance company and its claims adjuster. The declaratory judgment determined that the insurance company and the adjuster acted reasonably when they offered policy limits to settle the underlying claim against the insured. Because the insurance company’s and adjustor’s reasonableness in adjusting the insurance claim was a necessary element of a negligent adjustment tort, the Supreme Court held that the assignees of the insured were precluded from relitigating this issue. The superior court therefore erred in denying the insurance company’s and claims adjuster’s motions for summary judgment. View "Allstate Insurance Company v. Kenick" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants were an adult daughter (believed to be incompetent) and her mother. After retaining counsel, the mother brought a tort action as the daughter’s next friend for in utero injuries to the daughter, which the mother alleged were caused almost 20 years previously in a boating accident. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, but they also offered to permit plaintiffs to dismiss the case with each side to bear its own costs and fees. The plaintiffs’ attorney believed that accepting this walk-away offer was in the daughter’s best interest, but the mother disagreed. Facing a conflict of interest between his two clients, the attorney moved to withdraw. The superior court permitted the attorney to withdraw and ultimately granted the unopposed motion for summary judgment and awarded costs and fees against both plaintiffs. The mother and daughter appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court held that before granting the attorney’s motion to withdraw the court should have determined the daughter’s competency, and if she was found incompetent the court should have appointed a guardian ad litem or taken further action to protect her interests pursuant to Alaska Civil Rule 17(c). Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s orders granting the motion to withdraw and summary judgment, vacated the award of attorney’s fees and costs, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bravo v. Aker" on Justia Law

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Stacey Graham pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after striking and killing two pedestrians while driving intoxicated. He was sued by the victims’ families. Graham appealed his sentence, arguing he could assert the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the families’ discovery requests based on: (1) his criminal sentence appeal; and (2) the possibility that he might file an application for post-conviction relief if his sentence was upheld. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded Graham could assert the privilege against self-incrimination in the civil proceeding based on the possibility that the decision on his pending sentence appeal might require a new sentencing proceeding where his compelled testimony in the civil proceeding could be used to his disadvantage. The Supreme Court declined to decide whether Graham was entitled to assert the privilege based on the possibility that he might eventually file an application for post-conviction relief because that issue was not ripe for review. View "Graham v. Durr" on Justia Law

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An expert witness in a personal injury trial varied from his written report, expressing new opinions to justify a bar employee's use of force. The plaintiff sought to cross-examine the expert with testimony the expert had been given to review prior to writing his report; the testimony was contrary to the expert's new opinions. The superior court refused to allow this cross-examination, telling plaintiff she could try to call a rebuttal witness. Defendant objected because the new witness was not on the witness list. The superior court then refuses to allow the witness to testify. The jury found the employee was justified in using reasonable force to defend against a trespass. On appeal, plaintiff argued the superior court erred in precluding her cross-examination of the witness and for refusing to allow her rebuttal witness. The Alaska Supreme Court determined it was prejudicial abuse of discretion to preclude the rebuttal witness due to the defense expert's new and unexpected trial opinions, so it vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial without reaching the cross-examination issue. View "Johnson v. J.G. Pattee, Inc." on Justia Law

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A taxi driver injured in an accident while working filed a report with the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board. The nature of the relationship between the taxi company and the driver was disputed. The driver retained an attorney for a lawsuit against the other driver, and settled that claim with the other driver's insurance company without his taxi company's approval. Because the taxi company did not have workers' compensation insurance, the Alaska Workers' Compensation Benefits Guaranty Fund assumed responsibility for adjusting the workers' compensation claim. The Fund asked the Board to dismiss the taxi driver's claim because of the unapproved settlement. The Board dismissed the claim, and the Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission ultimately affirmed the Board's decision. The taxi driver appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission's decision. View "Atkins v. Inlet Transportation & Taxi Service, Inc." on Justia Law

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Paulette Harper sued two New York corporations in Alaska superior court alleging violations of her right of publicity and right of privacy. Her claims related to an allegedly false account regarding her recovery from cancer; she discovered the account in a brochure promoting products by BioLife Energy Systems, Inc., while working for BioLife’s distributor in Colorado. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction, claiming that neither of them has the minimum contacts with Alaska necessary to satisfy due process. The superior court granted the motion, reasoning that although BioLife arguably had some contacts in Alaska, the woman’s claims did not relate to those contacts, and the defendants’ contacts were insufficient to establish all-purpose jurisdiction. Harper appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Harper v. Biolife Energy Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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Alaska’s medical peer review privilege statute protected discovery of data, information, proceedings, and records of medical peer review organizations, but it did not protect a witness’s personal knowledge and observations or materials originating outside the medical peer review process. A hospital invoked the privilege in two separate actions, one involving a wrongful death suit against a physician at the hospital and the other involving both a medical malpractice claim against the same physician and a negligent credentialing claim against the hospital. In each case the superior court compelled the hospital to disclose materials related to complaints submitted about the physician and to the hospital’s decision to grant the physician medical staff membership. The hospital and the doctor sought the Alaska Supreme Court's review of the discovery orders. Because the Supreme Court concluded these discovery orders compelled the hospital to disclose information protected by the peer review privilege, it reversed the discovery orders in part. Furthermore, the Court held that the false information exception to the privilege provided in AS 18.23.030(b) applied to actions for which the submission of false information was an element of the claim and thus did not apply here. View "Mat-Su Valley Medical Center, LLC v. Bolinder" on Justia Law