Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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In 2009, Richard Mattox sued the Department of Corrections (DOC) for injuries arising from an assault by another prisoner. Mattox alleged that DOC was negligent in failing to accommodate his requests for transfer to a different housing module prior to the assault and that DOC was negligent in permitting the correctional officer on duty to leave the module during the time the assault occurred. The superior court granted DOC’s motion for partial summary judgment regarding classification and housing assignments and then granted DOC’s motion for summary judgment on all other causes of action. The Alaska Supreme Court remanded because there was a material question of fact regarding the foreseeability of the assault. Mattox moved for a new trial on the grounds that the jury erroneously applied the doctrine of discretionary function immunity in reaching its verdict when that question should have been decided by the court before trial. The court denied that motion and Mattox appealed. The Supreme Court concluded Mattox waived any challenge to the jury’s application of the doctrine, and the superior court committed no reversible error by allowing the jury to apply the doctrine rather than applying the doctrine itself sua sponte. View "Mattox v. Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The superior court found no inconsistency in the jury verdict, and denied appellant Todeschi’s motion for a new trial. Finding no error in the superior court judgement, the Supreme Court affirmed. Appellee, a mine supervisor, suffered back injuries over the course of his career and required several surgeries. His employer terminated his employment following his request for an accommodation and his renewed pursuit of a three-year-old workers’ compensation claim. The supervisor sued, alleging breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and unlawful discrimination based both on a disability and on his assertion of the workers’ compensation claim. The employer defended on grounds that the supervisor could no longer perform the essential functions of his job and had declined an offered accommodation; it also asserted that it was not liable for the workers’ compensation claim. A jury returned a special verdict finding the employer liable for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and awarding the supervisor $215,000 in past lost income, but finding in the employer’s favor on the supervisor’s other claims. The supervisor appealed, arguing the superior court erred when it: (1) denied his motion for a directed verdict on whether he has a disability; (2) denied his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict due to an inconsistency between the jury’s decisions of two of his claims; (3) declined to give a burden-shifting or adverse inference instruction based on alleged spoliation of evidence; and (4) raised a statute of limitations defense by way of a jury instruction. The employer cross-appealed, arguing that the superior court erred in excluding one of its witnesses. View "Todeschi v. Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo, LLC" on Justia Law

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State employee Shirley Shea suffered from chronic pain and has been unable to work. She applied for occupational disability benefits, claiming that prolonged sitting at work aggravated a preexisting medical condition. The Division of Retirement and Benefits denied the claim. An administrative law judge affirmed that decision, determining that employment was not a substantial factor in causing Shea's disability. On appeal, the superior court reversed the administrative law judge’s decision. Because the administrative law judge’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision and affirmed the administrative law judge. View "Alaska Dept. of Administration, Division of Retirement & Benefits v. Shea" on Justia Law

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Verna Haines hired an in-home care company to assist her with day-today living. The company provided an in-home assistant who was later discovered to have stolen the Haines’ jewelry and prescription medication. Haines sued both the company and the assistant for conversion and assault, among other causes of action, and accepted an offer of judgment from the company. The assistant did not appear in court. Eventually Haines applied for entry of default against the assistant “on the condition that once default is entered[,] . . . damages are to be determined by a jury.” The superior court granted a default but ruled that trial on damages would take place without a jury. After a bench trial, the court found that the assistant’s actions had caused Haines no additional suffering and therefore awarded her no damages. Haines appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decisions on the measure of damages for conversion and discovery sanctions. But the Court concluded it was an abuse of discretion to grant the woman’s application for default while denying the condition on which it was based , retaining her right to a jury trial. Furthermore, the Court concluded it was error to award no damages or attorney’s fees after entry of default when the allegations of the complaint and the evidence at trial put causation and harm at issue, and that the allegations of the complaint could have supported an award of punitive damages. The superior court’s judgment was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Haines v. Comfort Keepers, Inc." on Justia Law

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A driver lost control of his truck and crashed into a cabin, causing property damage and personal injuries to the cabin owner. The cabin owner brought suit against both the driver and the driver’s insurance company, alleging in part that the insurance company subsequently took charge of and negligently handled the fuel spill cleanup on the cabin owner’s property. The superior court granted the insurer summary judgment, concluding as a matter of law that the insurer could not owe the cabin owner an actionable duty. The cabin owner appealed, arguing that Alaska case law did not preclude a duty in this context. The Supreme Court agreed with the cabin owner and therefore reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment. View "Burnett v. Government Employee Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In July 2012 Erin Long was driving toward Sitka when Robert Arnold turned his truck onto the road, cutting her off and forcing her into a ditch. Long was traveling approximately ten miles per hour when she drove off the road, and her car slowed to a stop as it contacted roadside bushes. Long’s car did not come into contact with Arnold’s truck or any other stationary roadside object. Long claimed she began to feel sore while on a flight to California two days after the accident. She subsequently sought medical treatment for her pain. Long later sued Arnold, alleging that his negligent driving caused her injury, medical expenses, economic loss, loss of enjoyment of life, and physical and emotional pain and suffering. The main issue in this negligence case was whether it was error for the trial court to give a causation instruction to the jury, "[t]he negligence was important enough in causing the harm that a reasonable person would hold the negligent person responsible." Finding no error in issuing that instruction, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Long v. Arnold" on Justia Law

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School bus driver and appellant Jonathan Bockus injured his back moving a gate. He had two spinal surgeries, and his surgeon ultimately recommended a third. About the same time, the driver’s employer scheduled a medical examination, which delayed the planned surgery: the driver’s surgeon would not schedule the surgery while the employer’s medical evaluation was pending. So the driver filed a workers’ compensation claim for the third surgery, and the employer’s doctor ultimately agreed another surgery was appropriate. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board awarded the driver his attorney’s fees under AS 23.30.145(b), finding the employer had resisted these benefits, but the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission reversed the fee award. The Supreme Court concluded there was substantial evidence supporting the Board’s finding and therefore reinstated the award. View "Bockus v. First Student Services" on Justia Law

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A driver and his passengers sued another driver for injuries arising from an accident. After a trial, the jury returned an award of past pain and suffering damages for the driver, and past medical expenses and pain and suffering damages for one of the passengers. The driver and passengers appealed this award, arguing that it was impermissibly inconsistent and not supported by the weight of the evidence. Because the driver and passengers failed to challenge the jury verdicts before the trial court, all of their challenges were waived, and the Supreme Court affirmed the verdicts in full. View "Small v. Sayre" on Justia Law

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A worker whose Alaska workers’ compensation case was closed in 1977 filed a new claim in 2012 related to his injury from the 1970s. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board dismissed the new claim, and he appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission. The Commission granted the worker three extensions of time to file his brief and later issued an order to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed. The Commission dismissed the appeal, relying on its interpretation of a Board regulation. Finding that the interpretation of that regulation was made in error, the Supreme Court reversed the Commission’s decision. View "Eder v. M-K Rivers" on Justia Law

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Mid-afternoon on an icy early March day, plaintiff Michele Marshall was stopped at a stoplight preparing to turn left from the outside turn lane. Defendant Matthew Peter testified that he came to a complete stop about one-half car length behind her. After about 30 seconds, the light turned green, Marshall began to move forward, and Peter released his foot from the brake. But Marshall stopped sooner than Peter expected; Peter returned his foot to the brake, attempted to stop, and slid into Marshall’s vehicle. He testified that his car “just tapped the back of her car” at a speed that “couldn’t [have] be[en] more than three miles an hour.” He had yet to place his foot on the accelerator. Marshall contended that no reasonable juror could have found Peter not negligent and that the superior court therefore should have granted her motion for a directed verdict on liability. After review of this matter, the Supreme Court concluded that the jury reasonably found the driver behind not negligent, and therefore affirmed the denial of the motion. View "Marshall v. Peter" on Justia Law