Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Workers' Compensation Court that Mont. Code Ann. 39-71-703(2) did not violate Appellant's right to equal protection by denying an impairment award to a worker with a Class 1 impairment who has suffered no wage loss, holding that the statute passes rational basis muster under the Equal Protection Clause of the Montana Constitution.Section 39-71-703(2) allows impairment awards for claimants without actual wage loss only if they have a Class 2 or higher impairment rating. Appellant, who was designated as Class 1 and was denied an impairment award, challenged the statute, arguing that it violated her constitutional right to equal protection because other workers with different injuries but the same whole-person impairment percentage would receive the award. The WCC denied the challenge. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the WCC did not err in its determination that section 39-71-703(2) did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. View "Hensley v. Montana State Fund" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's dismissal of Mark Plakorus's claims against the University of Montana, holding that Plakorus's amended complaint was sufficient to state tort claims for defamation and intentional interference but that the district court properly dismissed the remaining claims.The University employed Plakorus under contract as head coach of the women's soccer team. This case arose from the University's refusal to renew Plakorus's contract after finding on Plakorus's phone records alleged private contacts with Las Vegas escort services. In his complaint, Plakorus claimed that the University unlawfully disclosed confidential information from his personnel file, violated his privacy rights, defamed him, and interfered with his future business prospects. The district court granted the University's motion to dismiss, concluding that Plakorus's tort claims arose from the employment contract and were barred by the one-year statute of limitations under Mont. Code Ann. 18-1-402(2). The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the district court erred in concluding that the duties underlying all of Plakorus's claims arose solely under the contract, and the state tort claims for defamation and intentional interference survived the State's motion to dismiss; and (2) the district court correctly dismissed the remaining claims as time barred. View "Plakorus v. University of Montana" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court determining that Montana law applied to the wrongful death action brought by Nicole Buckles on behalf of the estate her deceased son, Zachary Scott Buckles, whose death occurred in the State of North Dakota, holding that the district court did not err.Zachary died of exposure to high levels of hydrocarbon vapors while working on Continental Resources, Inc.'s well site located near Alexander, North Dakota. Buckles, acting as personal representative of Zachary's estate, filed a wrongful death action against Continental and other entities in a Montana district court. Two defendants filed a motion for declaration of applicable law requesting that the district court apply North Dakota substantive law to Buckles' claims. The district court denied the motion, determining that Montana law applied. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not clearly err in concluding that although the injury occurred outside of Montana, Montana had the most significant relationship to this litigation. View "Buckles v. BH Flowtest, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint on the ground that his state common-law tort claims for slander and emotional distress were preempted by the federal Civil Reform Act (the Act), holding that the district court prematurely dismissed the case without the factual record needed to determine preemption.While working at the Montana Veterans Administration Health Care System (Montana VA), Plaintiff had consensual sex with fellow employee Tori Marino. Marino reported that Plaintiff had sexually assaulted her and later recanted her allegation. Marino later told Plaintiff that two other employees of the Montana VA who served as a union president and union steward had told her to falsely accuse Plaintiff in order to avoid losing her job. Plaintiff filed a complaint against Marino, the two employees, and the union seeking damages for slander and emotional distress. The union defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the Act preempted Dickson's state-law tort claims. The district court agreed, holding that the union defendants' conduct constituted a "prohibited personnel practice," and therefore, the Act preempted Plaintiff's claims. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in concluding on the allegations of Plaintiff's complaint alone that his claims were preempted by the Act. View "Dickson v. Marino" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of the Billings Clinic on the negligence claim brought by Plaintiffs Nancy Nolan and her husband Thomas Garrity after Nolan slipped and fell on ice and snow near the Clinic's entrance, holding that there was no abuse of discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it (1) did not impose further sanctions on the Clinic for its failure to preserve video evidence; (2) admitted a weather report through Garrity, who had no personal knowledge of the report; (3) refused to allow Plaintiffs to introduce evidence of other falls on the Clinic's premises; and (4) refused to give Plaintiffs' proposed jury instruction on a Billings municipal ordinance regarding snow removal without evidence that the Clinic received a citation for violating the Municipal Code. View "Nolan v. Billings Clinic" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting Continental Resources, Inc.'s motion to dismiss for lack of specific personal jurisdiction Plaintiff's complaint alleging that Continental was liable for the death of Zachary Buckles, holding that Plaintiff raised sufficient facts to withstand a motion to dismiss.Buckles died at a North Dakota oil well site owned by Continental, allegedly from exposure to high levels of hydrocarbon vapors while manually gauging tanks. The district court concluded that Continental, an Oklahoma corporation authorized to do business in Montana, was not subject to specific personal jurisdiction because the events leading to Buckles' death did not satisfy Montana's long-arm statute and because exercising jurisdiction over Continental would violate the United States Constitution's Due Process Clause. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Continental failed to present a compelling case that jurisdiction would be unreasonable should Plaintiff prove her claims. View "Buckles v. Continental Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to the City of Billing on Appellant's claims that the City was vicariously liable for the tortious acts of former City employee Michael Glancy, holding that the district court erred in concluding as a matter of law that Glancy was not acting within the scope of his employment.After Appellant brought his lawsuit the City filed a motion for summary judgment on the asserted ground that Glancy engaged in the alleged tortious conduct outside the scope of his employment. The district court granted summary judgment for the City. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment as to whether Glancy's conduct were incidental to implicitly authorized conduct and thus within the scope of his employment. View "Brenden v. City of Billings" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court allowed hundreds of former employees of W.R. Grace & Company's Zonolite Division in Libby (Grace) to continue their asbestos-related personal injury claims against Maryland Casualty Company (MCC), Grace's former workers' compensation insurance provider, holding that MCC owed Grace workers a direct common law duty under Restatement (Second) of Torts 324A(b)-(c) to use reasonable care under the circumstances to warn them of the known risk of exposure to airborne asbestos in certain Grace workplaces.The Supreme Court assumed supervisory control over proceedings pending before the Montana Asbestos Claims Court. Here the Court addressed on extraordinary review MCC's assertion that the district court erred in concluding that MCC owed a duty of care to warn third-party employees of Grace of a known risk of airborne asbestos exposure in or about Grace facilities in and about Libby, Montana between 1963 and 1970. The Supreme Court held that, based on MCC's affirmative assumption of employee-specific medical monitoring and Grace's reliance on MCC to perform that function, MCC owed Grace workers a legal duty to use reasonable care to warn them of the risk of airborne asbestos. View "Maryland Casualty Co. v. Asbestos Claims Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) and dismissing Plaintiff's claims for wrongful discharge from employment, violation of Montana constitutional and administrative rights to privacy, and tortious defamation, holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) no genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether DOC discharged Plaintiff for good cause, and therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim; (2) no genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether DOC discharged Plaintiff in violation of its written personnel policy, and therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim; (3) the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim that DOC violated her right to privacy under Mont. Const. art. II, 10 and Admin. R. M. 2.21.6615; and (4) the district court did not err in concluding that derogatory statements made by DOC to the Montana Peace Officer Standards and Training Council were privileged under Mont. Code Ann. 27-1-804(2). View "Speer v. State, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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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