Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

by
After a mother and daughter were involved in a car accident, they (and the father) sued the employer of the other vehicle’s driver. The employer made separate offers of judgment to the mother and daughter under Alaska Civil Rule 68, which they rejected. At trial all three plaintiffs were awarded damages. With respect to the mother, the superior court awarded partial attorney’s fees to the employer under Rule 68 because the mother’s award was less than 95% of the offer made to her. Mother appealed, arguing that the offer of judgment was not a valid Rule 68 offer and that the superior court wrongly excluded certain costs that, when included, would have led to an award of more than 95% of the offer of judgment. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found the offer of judgment was valid and that the court did not err in excluding costs not covered by Alaska Civil Rule 79 when comparing the offer to the mother’s recovery. View "Whittenton v. Peter Pan Seafoods, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In 2010, Corrections Officer Nelson Robinson was supervising a prison module of about 50 inmates at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, including Radenko Jovanov and Alando Modeste. Modeste approached Jovanov while he was in line for the telephone, and he told Jovanov that he wanted them to request placement in separate modules because Modeste was related by marriage to the victim of Jovanov’s crime. Modeste then punched Jovanov on the left side of the head and pushed his head into the wall, requiring Jovanov to obtain medical treatment for his injuries. Jovanov sued the Department of Corrections (DOC), Officer Robinson, and Modeste for his injuries, alleging: (1) the assault was foreseeable and therefore DOC should have prevented it; (2) Officer Robinson failed to respond promptly to the argument and prevent further injury to Jovanov; and (3) DOC was negligent in understaffing the prison unit and placing the officer’s desk out of view of the telephone. DOC counterclaimed for the cost of the medical treatment Jovanov received. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of Jovanov against Modeste on the issue of liability, and in favor of DOC’s counterclaim for medical costs. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of DOC on Jovanov’s negligence claims against it; the assault was not foreseeable, and therefore DOC cannot be negligent on these grounds. Further, DOC’s staffing decisions and its placement of the guard’s duty station were immune policy decisions that could not form the basis of a negligence claim. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of DOC on its counterclaim against Jovanov for the cost of medical care provided to him and remand for further proceedings. The Court also remanded for further proceedings regarding Jovanov’s negligence claim against Modeste. View "Jovanov v. Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
Two families shared a duplex in Ketchikan. Brian Calvin and his wife and child lived in the upper unit; Tracy Harrell, her husband, Klyn Kloxin, and her mother, Winnie Sue Willis, lived in the bottom unit. In 2013, the duplex was destroyed by fire, and Willis was killed. Harrell concluded the cause of the fire was the upper unit's electric fish smoker, and sued their neighbors above asserting claims for wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The superior court concluded that their suit was barred by two-year statutes of limitations and granted summary judgment for the neighbor. The court also awarded the neighbor attorney’s fees under Alaska Civil Rule 82 and entered judgment jointly and severally against the estate and the two individuals. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing the superior court erred in granting summary judgment because the statutes of limitations were tolled by the "discovery rule." They also argued the court abused its discretion in assessing attorney’s fees against them as individuals and in making them jointly and severally liable for the judgment. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court properly applied the statutes of limitations and that it did not abuse its discretion in its attorney’s fees award. View "Harrell v. Calvin" on Justia Law

by
An employee continued to work for over ten years after a job-related knee injury but had multiple surgeries on her injured knee. Over time, her employer made several permanent partial impairment payments, and she was eventually determined to be permanently and totally disabled because of the work injury. She began to receive Social Security disability at about the same time she was classified as permanently and totally disabled for workers’ compensation. Her employer asked the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board to allow two offsets to its payment of permanent total disability (PTD) compensation: one related to Social Security disability benefits and one related to the earlier permanent partial impairment (PPI) payments. The Board established a Social Security offset and permitted the employer to deduct the amount of previously paid PPI. The employee appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, arguing that the Board had improperly applied one of its regulations in allowing the PPI offset and had incorrectly calculated the amount of the Social Security offset. She also brought a civil suit against the State challenging the validity of the regulation. The State intervened in the Commission appeal; the lawsuit was dismissed. The Commission reversed the Board’s calculation of the Social Security offset and affirmed the Board’s order permitting the PPI offset. The employer appealed the Commission’s Social Security offset decision to the Alaska Supreme Court, and the employee cross- appealed the PPI offset. The Court affirmed that part of the Commission’s decision reversing the Board’s calculation of the Social Security disability offset and reversed that part of the Commission’s decision permitting an offset for permanent partial impairment benefits. The case was remanded back to the Commission for further proceedings. View "Alaska Airlines, Inc. v. Darrow" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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