Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court

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While sitting on his motorcycle at a stop light, Chad Hahn was thrown backwards when Franklin Townsend’s car failed to stop in time and struck the motorcycle. During settlement negotiations in the suit that followed, Hahn sought payment under Townsend’s underinsured motorist(UIM) insurance policy. Hahn argued that he was an insured occupant of Townsend’s car because he landed on the car after the impact and that Townsend’s liability insurance would not cover the full extent of his damages, rendering Townsend underinsured. Townsend’s insurer, GEICO Choice Insurance Company (GEICO), sued for a declaratory judgment that no UIM coverage was available. Hahn answered, raising a number of affirmative defenses including that GEICO’s declaratory judgment action was not ripe and that the court therefore lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Hahn also filed a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment that UIM coverage was available to him, and asserted third-party claims against Townsend, seeking to join him as a necessary party and a real party in interest. The superior court concluded that it had subject matter jurisdiction, granted summary judgment and a declaratory judgment in GEICO’s favor, and dismissed the third-party claims against Townsend. Hahn appealed; finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hahn v. GEICO Choice Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Abigail Caudle was a 26-year-old apprentice electrician when she was electrocuted on the job while working for Raven Electric, Inc. Her mother sought workers’ compensation death benefits or other damages related to her daughter’s death. Acting on the advice of attorneys but representing herself, she brought a claim before the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, arguing in part that the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act was unconstitutional because it inadequately compensated for her daughter’s life, particularly given the circumstances of her daughter’s death, and because it failed to consider her future dependency on her daughter. The Board denied her claim, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. The Commission also ordered the mother to pay the employer’s attorney’s fees and costs. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the mother’s constitutional rights are not violated by the Act. However, the Court reversed the Commission’s award of attorney’s fees. View "Burke v. Raven Electric, Inc." on Justia Law

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An asphalt plant operator threw a can at a driver waiting outside his truck to get his attention, striking him in the back. The driver dropped to his hands and knees after being struck, and went to an emergency room for medical treatment. The driver brought negligence and battery claims against the plant operator and his employer, but was awarded minimal damages after trial. The driver appealed, challenging several of the superior court’s decisions regarding jury instructions, evidentiary rulings, and pre- and post-trial orders. But because the Alaska Supreme Court found no error in the superior court’s decisions, it affirmed. View "Lindbo v. Colaska, Inc." on Justia Law

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An asphalt plant operator threw a can at a driver waiting outside his truck to get his attention, striking him in the back. The driver dropped to his hands and knees after being struck, and went to an emergency room for medical treatment. The driver brought negligence and battery claims against the plant operator and his employer, but was awarded minimal damages after trial. The driver appealed, challenging several of the superior court’s decisions regarding jury instructions, evidentiary rulings, and pre- and post-trial orders. But because the Alaska Supreme Court found no error in the superior court’s decisions, it affirmed. View "Lindbo v. Colaska, Inc." on Justia Law

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A family rushed to the scene of a car accident, only to discover that it had been caused by a family member, who soon thereafter died from her traumatic injuries. The family brought a bystander claim against the deceased family member’s estate for negligent infliction of emotional distress, making the novel argument that, even though the family member was also the tortfeasor, the family could recover for its resulting emotional distress. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the estate, reasoning that the family’s claim had no basis in current Alaska law. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed, concurring that the family’s claim had no basis in Alaska law and also failed to satisfy the test set forth in D.S.W. v. Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, 628 P.2d 554, 555 (Alaska 1981) regarding expanding tort liability. View "Schack v. Schack" on Justia Law

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A family rushed to the scene of a car accident, only to discover that it had been caused by a family member, who soon thereafter died from her traumatic injuries. The family brought a bystander claim against the deceased family member’s estate for negligent infliction of emotional distress, making the novel argument that, even though the family member was also the tortfeasor, the family could recover for its resulting emotional distress. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the estate, reasoning that the family’s claim had no basis in current Alaska law. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed, concurring that the family’s claim had no basis in Alaska law and also failed to satisfy the test set forth in D.S.W. v. Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, 628 P.2d 554, 555 (Alaska 1981) regarding expanding tort liability. View "Schack v. Schack" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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