Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court
Terry v. Dorothy
The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the district court dismissing an employee's gross negligence claim against a coemployee, holding that settlement documents submitted to and approved by the workers' compensation commissioner extinguished the employee's gross negligence claim.Plaintiff, an employee of Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI) was attacked by one of LSI's clients, causing injuries. Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim against LSI and its workers' compensation carrier. The parties settled, and the two settlement documents were approved by the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently filed a petition in district court seeking to recover damages from Defendant, Plaintiff's supervisor when he worked at LSI, on a theory of gross negligence. Defendant moved to dismiss the action, relying on release language in the settlement documents. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant on both contract and statutory grounds. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that a settlement with the commissioner did not release a common law claim of gross negligence against a coemployee. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' judgment and affirmed the district court's summary judgment, holding that the district court properly ruled that, as a matter of contract, the language in the terms of settlement extinguished Plaintiff's gross negligence claim. View "Terry v. Dorothy" on Justia Law
Breese v. City of Burlington
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to the City of Burlington and dismissing Plaintiffs' claim that the City was negligent by giving a sewer box the appearance that it was part of the City's trail system, holding that the public-duty doctrine did not shield the City from its affirmative acts under the circumstances and that a genuine issue of material fact existed precluding summary judgment.Plaintiff was injured when she struck a tree branch while riding on a sewer box that was connected to a public pathway and fell ten feet to the ground. Plaintiffs alleged that the City was negligent in connecting the sewer box to the pathway without providing guardrails and warning signs. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City based on the public-duty doctrine and the state-of-the-art defense. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the public-duty doctrine did not apply to the facts of this case; and (2) because a material fact existed as to whether the City's pathway connected to the sewer box met the recognized safety standards at the time of construction the district court erred in granting the City's motion for summary judgment based on the state-of-the-art defense. View "Breese v. City of Burlington" on Justia Law
Gries v. Ames Ecumenical Housing, Inc.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to the continuing storm doctrine in this negligence action, holding that because a factual dispute existed as to whether there was a continuing storm the proper course was to instruct the jury on the doctrine and leave the fact-finding to the jury.Plaintiff sued Defendant, her landlord, after she slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk outside her apartment building. The district court held that the district court erred in holding that, as a matter of law, Defendant had no duty at the time Plaintiff fell to remove or ameliorate the accumulation of snow or ice on the sidewalk pursuant to the continuing storm doctrine. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) this Court declines Plaintiff's request to abandon the continuing storm doctrine; and (2) Defendant failed to establish the continuing storm doctrine entitled Defendant to judgment as a matter of law. View "Gries v. Ames Ecumenical Housing, Inc." on Justia Law
Gray v. Oliver
The Supreme Court held that judgment creditors cannot levy on their judgment debtor, obtain the judgment debtor's chose in action for legal malpractice against the attorney representing the judgment debtor in the litigation giving rise to the judgment, and prosecute the claim for legal malpractice against the attorney as successors in interest to their judgment debtor.Janice and Jeff Gray were awarded $127 million in a civil suit against James Lee Hohenshell. The court of appeals affirmed. While the appeal was pending, the Grays caused to be issued a writ of execution on the judgment against Hohenshell. Amongst the property levied on was any claims against Michael Oliver, Hohenshell's lawyer in the underlying suit. The Grays purchased this right for $5000 at the sheriff's sale. The Grays then filed this malpractice claim against Oliver as successors in interest to Hohenshell. The district court granted Oliver's motion for summary judgment, holding that public policy prohibits the assignment of a legal malpractice claim to an adversarial party in the underlying lawsuit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that judgment creditors cannot prosecute a claim for legal malpractice as successors in interest to their former litigation adversary where the claim for legal malpractice arose out of the suit in which the parties were adverse. View "Gray v. Oliver" on Justia Law
Logan v. Bon Ton Stores, Inc.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing Appellant's petition for judicial review, holding that timely faxing a petition for judicial review to the opposing party's counsel, where the petition is actually received and no prejudice results, constitutes substantial compliance under Iowa Code 17A.19(2).Appellant filed four petitions with the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commission against Respondents, her employer and its workers' compensation insurance carrier, alleging that she received several workplace injuries. The commissioner largely denied the petitions. Appellant then filed a pro se petition with the district court seeking judicial review. The petition was electronically filed, and Appellant faxed copies the same day to Respondents and the workers' compensation commission. The district court granted Respondents' motion to dismiss, concluding that Appellant's sending of a fax of her petition was not substantial compliance with the requirements of section 17A.19(2). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Appellant substantially complied with the service requirements in section 17A.19(2). View "Logan v. Bon Ton Stores, Inc." on Justia Law
Gumm v. Easter Seal Society of Iowa, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Claimant's petition for judicial review challenging the decision of the workers' compensation commissioner concluding that Claimant, who was receiving disability benefits for a traumatic injury, could not later recover disability benefits on a separate cumulative injury claim where the cumulative injury was based solely on aggravation of the earlier traumatic injury.Because the three-year statute of limitations for review-reopening had passed Claimant instead brought a separate cumulative injury claim. The commissioner declined to award benefits for the asserted cumulative injury. The district court upheld the commissioner's ruling. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that because Claimant was precluded by the statute of limitations from bringing an original proceeding or review-reopening she could recover by way of a cumulative-injury claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that sufficient record evidence sustained the commissioner's finding that Claimant's difficulties were merely the aggravation over time of her original injury and that Claimant did not suffer a distinct and discrete cumulative injury to support additional benefits. View "Gumm v. Easter Seal Society of Iowa, Inc." on Justia Law
Roland v. Annett Holdings, Inc.
The Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the district court certifying a class action of employees with pending workers' compensation claims, holding that the district court abused its discretion by certifying this case as a class action.Employee filed this civil action on behalf of himself and other "similarly situated" employees who signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) as a condition of employment providing for short-term light duty and treatment in Des Moines after sustaining a work-related injury. Before the instant case was filed, an Iowa court determined the MOU as applied to Employee violated Iowa Code 85.18 and 85.27(4). The district court certified the case as a class action. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the commonality requirement was lacking, individual issues predominated over common ones, and because workers' compensation claims must be resolved by the workers' compensation commission before judicial review, the district court erred in certifying this case as a class action. View "Roland v. Annett Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law
Susie v. Family Health Care of Siouxland, P.L.C.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for Defendants on Plaintiffs' medical malpractice claims, holding that Plaintiffs failed to set forth specific facts showing a prima facie case of causation and lost chance of survival.Sharon Susie lost her right arm and eight of her toes due to a disorder known as necrotizing fasciitis. Sharon and her husband (together, Plaintiffs) filed a negligence claim against Defendants seeking damages for the amputation of Sharon's arm and other injuries. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants were negligent because Sharon's condition was not properly diagnosed and treatment was not timely commenced and that Defendants' actions resulted in the lost chance to save Sharon's arm and toes from amputation. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that summary judgment was properly granted because Plaintiffs failed to set forth specific facts showing a prima facie case of causation and lost chance of survival. View "Susie v. Family Health Care of Siouxland, P.L.C." on Justia Law
Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, LLP v. Plante
In this action brought by a law firm seeking to enforce its payment due under a contingency fee contract the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court ordering judgment against the family that retained the law firm for one-third of their recovery plus interest, holding that the one-third contingency fee contract was reasonable at the time of its inception.After a car accident left a motorist in critical condition, the motorist's family (Appellants) retained a law firm to represent the motorist's interests. A contingency fee contract required Appellants to pay one-third of the recovery to the law firm for attorney fees. Appellants accepted a $7.5 million offer to settle the case. When Appellants failed to pay the contingency fee the law firm brought this action to enforce its payment. Appellants argued that the one-third contingency fee contract violated Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:1.5(a) because it was an unreasonable fee. Judgment was ordered against Appellants for one-third of the recovery plus interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the one-third contingency fee agreement was reasonable at the time of its inception; and (2) this Court will not use the noncontingency fee factors under Rule 32:1.5(a) to reevaluate the contingency fee contract from a position of hindsight. View "Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, LLP v. Plante" on Justia Law
Thornton v. American Interstate Insurance Co.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court awarding Plaintiff compensatory and punitive damages in his action for first-party bad faith in connection with a workers' compensation claim, holding that the compensatory award must be reduced and that, under the federal Due Process Clause, the maximum amount of punitive damages that may be awarded under the facts of this case was $500,000.Plaintiff, who was severely injured at work, brought this lawsuit alleging that a workers' compensation insurance carrier acted in bad faith to delay the receipt of benefits to which Plaintiff was entitled. On retrial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff for $382,000 in compensatory damages and $6,750,000 in punitive damages. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiff failed to offer substantial evidence to support his claim that the insurance carrier engaged in bad faith in connection with an alleged delay in acquisition of a replacement wheelchair; (2) with respect to the permanently and totally disabled bad-faith claim, the evidence supported actual damages of no more than $58,452,42; and (3) the maximum amount of punitive damages that may be awarded in this case is $500,000. View "Thornton v. American Interstate Insurance Co." on Justia Law