Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed a $35 million jury verdict in favor of Alexis Nunez on her claim that the Jehovah's Witnesses were negligent as a matter of law when they failed to notify authorities of a 2004 child abuse report her uncle Peter McGowan made to a church elder alleging that Peter's stepfather had sexually abused him as a child, holding that the Jehovah's Witnesses were excused from reporting by Montana's mandatory child abuse reporting statute, Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-201. Alexis, a victim of abuse by Reyes, sued the church in 2016 alleging that the Jehovah's Witnesses violated the state statute by failing to report Reyes's abuse of Peter. A jury awarded Alexis $4 million in actual damages and $31 million in punitive damages. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Jehovah's Witnesses' established doctrine and practice required elders to keep Peter's disclosure confidential, and therefore, the Jehovah's Witnesses were excepted from the mandatory reporting statute. View "Nunez v. Watchtower" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered in the negative a question certified to it by a federal district court regarding tension in case law between an insurer's duty to a third-party claimant and its duty to its insured. As a result of an accident caused by High County Paving, Inc., one person died and another was critically injured. United Fire & Casualty Co., High County's insurer, advance-paid the medical expenses of the injured parties prior to a final settlement. High County argued that any further payments to the injured parties without obtaining a release for High County would violate United Fire's duties to High Country, as general damages are not a type of damages that are required to be advance-paid to an injured third party. United Fire argued it was required to tender a payment of policy limits to the injured parties without a release for High Country because total damages exceeded policy limits. The Supreme Court held that an insurer does not breach its duty to its insured when it pays policy limits to an injured third party, without a release for its insured, after a motor vehicle accident when both liability for the accident is reasonably clear and it is reasonably clear that total damages caused by the insured exceed policy limits. View "High Country Paving v. United Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the Estate of Allen J. Longsoldier, Jr. declaring that Hill County was vicariously liable for the negligence of the Northern Montana Hospital (NMH) under the non-delegable duty doctrine, holding that Hill County could not be held vicariously liable for NMH's medical negligence. Longsoldier, who was being detained at the Hill County Detention Center, died at NMH due to the effect of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Longsoldier's Estate filed this negligence action against Hill County, arguing that it had a non-delegable duty to provide Longsoldier with reasonable medical care and was therefore vicariously liable for NMH's medical negligence. The district court concluded that Hill County was vicariously liable for NMH's actions on the ground that public policy dictated the creation of a non-delegable duty. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that under the proper tests, Hill County was not vicariously liable for NMH's medical negligence. View "Estate of Longsoldier v. Blaine County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order of the Workers' Compensation Court (WCC) reversing in part and affirming in part the order of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) directing Petitioner to attend a medical examination for a diagnostic update of Petitioner's medical problems attributable to his industrial injury, holding that the WCC erred. Specifically, the WCC held that New Hampshire must first authorize Petitioner to see a psychiatrist or psychologist before it could obtain a psychiatric examination pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 39-71-605. New Hampshire provided workers' compensation insurance for Petitioner's employer. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the WCC correctly held that Petitioner should not be compelled to attend a psychiatric examination before it was established that his complaints of insomnia and anxiety were causally related to his workers' compensation claim; but (2) the WCC erred in concluding that New Hampshire must pay for a medical examination and treatment of Petitioner's complaints before New Hampshire could obtain a section 605 exam. View "Neisinger v. New Hampshire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In this insurance dispute the Supreme Court reversed in part the district court's determination that Carla King was not entitled to her taxable costs and her claimed nontaxable costs after a jury found in favor of King, holding that the district court erred in concluding that King was not entitled to her claimed nontaxable costs. King was injured when her vehicle was hit by a drunk driver. King sought underinsured motorist coverage from State Farm, but King and State Farm did not agree on the value of King's claim. State Farm had offered to settle the claim for $20,000. The jury found that King had suffered damages in the amount of $410,000. The district court entered judgment against State Farm in the amount of the policy limit of $50,000. The district court awarded King $20,000 in attorney fees and denied King's claimed litigation expenses and costs. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court correctly held that King was not entitled to her taxable costs as provided by Mont. Code Ann. 25-10-201 because they were not timely filed; and (2) the district court erred in concluding that King was not entitled to her claimed nontaxable costs because those litigation costs were part of the insurance exception to the American Rule. View "King v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Workers' Compensation Court (WCC) granting summary judgment to Indemnity Insurance Company of North America on Brian Richardson's petition arguing that he was entitled to have Indemnity accept his claim for workers' compensation benefits, holding that the WCC correctly held that Richardson had not timely filed a written claim for benefits under Mont. Code Ann. 39-71-601. Richardson filed his claim for benefits almost four years after the alleged work-related accident. Indemnity denied Richardson's claim on the grounds that Richardson had failed to provide his employer with timely notice and that he had failed timely to file his claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Richardson failed to file a timely written claim under section 39-71-601. View "Richardson v. Indemnity Insurance Co. of N.A." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of dissolution issued by the district court, holding that the district court had jurisdiction to divide a portion of the proceeds from Shannon Moore's California personal injury lawsuit in the decree and did not err when it denied Kayle Jo Hardman's request for half of the proceeds from Shannon's California personal injury lawsuit. Kayle and Shannon married in California. Shannon was injured in California and filed a personal injury lawsuit. After living in Montana for 100 days, Kayle filed a petition for dissolution and served it on Shannon in California. The district court entered a decree. Thereafter, Shannon received a jury verdict in his personal injury lawsuit. Kayle sought to be awarded half of the proceeds of the lawsuit under the decree. The district court granted Kayle fifty percent of the proceeds from Shannon's personal injury lawsuit. The court later vacated its order. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) had jurisdiction to divide a portion of the proceeds from Shannon's California personal lawsuit in the decree; and (2) correctly denied Kayle's request for half of the proceeds from Shannon's California personal injury lawsuit. View "In re Marriage of Moore" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Ford Motor Company's motion to change venue in this case alleging claims for strict liability for design defects, strict liability for failure to warn, and negligence, holding that the named plaintiff in this proceeding properly brought a survival and wrongful death action against Ford in Cascade County pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 25-2-122(2)(b). The Decedent, a resident of Mineral County, died of injuries she suffered when her Ford Explorer lost stability and rolled into a ditch in Mineral County. Charles Lucero, the personal representative of Decedent's estate, filed suit against Ford in Cascade County on behalf of Decedent and her heirs. Ford, which had a registered agent in Missoula County, filed a motion for change of venue, requesting that venue be changed to Mineral or Missoula County. The district court denied the motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Lucero resided in Cascade County venue was proper in Cascade County under section 25-2-122(2). View "Lucero v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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In this action brought by Lisa Warrington bringing claims for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and promissory estoppel the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order granting partial summary judgment to Great Falls Clinic, LLP and denied the Clinic's cross appeal, holding that the district court did not err. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) did not err by granting partial summary judgment to the Clinic on Warrington's tort claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (2) did not commit reversible error by admitting evidence of the Clinic's liability and Warrington's emotional distress; (3) did not err by denying the Clinic's motion for judgment as a matter of law regarding Warrington's damages; and (4) did not err by failing to rule and instruct the jury that the contract at issue was for a one-year term pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 39-2-602(1). View "Warrington v. Great Falls Clinic, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted a question certified to it by the United States District Court for the District of Montana to address an Estate's third-party claim to stacked liability limits in an aircraft insurance policy that covered multiple aircraft, concluding that the answer to the question, which the Court reformulated, was no. The Supreme Court reformulated the question as follows: "Is the Estate of Darrell L. Ward entitled to stack the limits of liability coverage for three separate aircraft under the terms of an insurance policy issued to the pilot of an aircraft in which Ward was a passenger at the time it crashed?" The Supreme Court answered no to the reformulated certified question because (1) the plain, unambiguous language of the contract limits the coverage to the aircraft that is involved in the accident; (2) there is no public policy or statute that mandates payment of the cumulative coverage for separate aircraft in an aviation liability insurance policy that does not provide for such payment; and (3) the insurance policy at issue was not subject to stacking of its passenger liability coverages. View "U.S. Specialty v. Estate of Ward" on Justia Law