Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Workforce Safety & Insurance (WSI) appealed a district court judgment affirming the administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order concluding Isai Avila was entitled to both the scheduled permanent partial impairment award for vision loss and whole body permanent partial impairment award for additional injuries to his cervical spine, facial bone, acoustic nerve, and brain. In 2015, Avila fell on ice carrying a railroad tie while employed by SM Fencing & Energy Services, Inc., and sustained injuries. WSI issued an order awarding permanent impairment benefits of $34,000 to Avila. Avila requested a hearing. During a second review Avila underwent a permanent impairment evaluation. The evaluation determined Avila had 29% whole body permanent partial impairment which included 16% whole body impairment for vision loss of Avila’s left eye. WSI concluded under N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11) that Avila was entitled to the greater of either the scheduled impairment award or the whole body impairment award, but not both. WSI issued a notice of decision confirming no additional award of permanent impairment benefits was due. Avila again requested a hearing after reconsideration. The sole issue at the administrative hearing was interpretation of the portion of N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11). and whether the statute applied to the same work-related injury or condition, and not impairments for the same work-related incident. Since Avila’s loss of vision in his left eye was the same work-related injury or condition for which Avila received a 100 permanent impairment multiplier (PIM) scheduled injury award, the “loss of vision in left eye” component of the 29% whole body impairment must be subtracted from the award to determine Avila’s additional permanent impairment benefits. The ALJ concluded the additional injuries were not the same work-related injury or condition as the vision loss, and N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11) was not applicable. Therefore, the ALJ determined Avila was entitled to both the scheduled impairment award for vision loss and the whole body impairment award for his additional injuries. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that because Avila had an injury set out in N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11), he was entitled to the greater of the combined rating for all accepted impairments under the AMA Guides or the injury schedule. Here, N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11) provided the greater PIM. Accordingly, WSI correctly determined Avila’s award. The ALJ judgment was not in accordance with the law. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings. View "WSI v. Avila, et al." on Justia Law

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Mark Krebsbach appeals a district court judgment dismissing his lawsuit against Trinity Hospital relating to medical services provided to his wife. Krystal Krebsbach died in June 2016. In September 2013 she was diagnosed with hepatitis C while a patient at the ManorCare nursing home in Minot. Krystal’s diagnosis occurred during a hepatitis C outbreak in the Minot area. In September 2016 Krebsbach moved to intervene in a lawsuit with other plaintiffs against Trinity related to the hepatitis C outbreak. The district court granted Krebsbach’s motion in December 2016. Krebsbach’s complaint against Trinity alleged negligence, fraud, deceit and unlawful sales and advertising practices. Krebsbach claimed negligence and misconduct by Trinity’s staff and management caused Krystal Krebsbach’s hepatitis C. Krebsbach alleged Trinity engaged in actual fraud or deceit by misrepresenting the competency of its care providers and withholding information about its employees’ theft or misuse of drugs (known as drug diversion) and needle reuse. Krebsbach asserted Krystal Krebsbach relied on Trinity’s misrepresentations and allowed Trinity to provide her with phlebotomy services, which caused her to contract hepatitis C. The court dismissed Krebsbach’s action after a special master appointed by the court concluded the two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice applied to Krebsbach’s action. The special master also concluded the action was barred because Krebsbach had notice of Trinity’s possible negligence more than two years before bringing his lawsuit. Krebsbach claimed the six-year statute of limitations under N.D.C.C. 28-01-16 applies to his negligence claims against Trinity. Before the North Dakota Supreme Court, Krebsbach argued the special master and district court erred in concluding he was on notice of Trinity’s possible negligence more than two years before commencing his action against Trinity. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Krebsbach, et al. v. Trinity Hospitals, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Dylan Devore appealed summary judgments dismissing his negligence and gross negligence claims against defendants American Eagle Energy Corporation, Integrated Petroleum Technologies, Inc. (“IPT”), and Brian Barony. Devore was a crew supervisor for Fort Berthold Services (“FBS”), which provided water transfer services for hydraulic fracturing operations at oil wells. In February 2014, American Eagle Energy Corporation began hydraulic fracturing operations on an oil well in Divide County, North Dakota and contracted with FBS to provide water. American Eagle also contracted with IPT, a consulting company. Though IPT coordinated American Eagle’s independent contractors, American Eagle authorized any contractor to stop work at any time if a work condition was unsafe. IPT had no contractual relationship with FBS. FBS took direction from IPT, but FBS controlled its own day-to-day activities, including how it performed its work. On the morning of March 2, 2014, ice had formed in a hose between a pond near the well site and a tank. While the hose was still pressurized from the compressed air, at least one FBS crew member struck it with a sledgehammer in an attempt to dislodge the ice obstruction. The sledgehammer blows caused the hose to break apart and uncontrollably jump and whip around. The flailing hose struck and injured Devore. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the facts, viewed in a light most favorable to Devore, did not support a conclusion that American Eagle, IPT, or Barony owed Devore a duty of care or proximately caused his injuries. Therefore the Court affirmed the summary judgments. View "Devore v. American Eagle Energy Corporation, et al." on Justia Law

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Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) appealed a district court judgment reversing an Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) confirmation of a prior order of WSI. In 2014, Ellis began receiving partial disability benefits. In 2016, Ellis underwent a functional capacity assessment and further review by WSI. WSI determined Ellis continued to be eligible to receive partial disability benefits, but at a reduced amount. WSI ordered his partial disability benefits be reduced by the greater of his actual wages or his retained earning capacity as had been determined by WSI. Ellis appealed the WSI order, triggering review by the ALJ. WSI contended the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Ellis’ appeal of the ALJ’s decision because his appeal to the district court was untimely. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Ellis failed to timely file his appeal of the ALJ's decision. The Court therefore ordered the district court judgment vacated, and reinstated the decision of the ALJ. View "Ellis v. WSI" on Justia Law

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Bile Salat appealed the discontinuation of his disability benefits. In 2016, Salat slipped and fell at work. On March 31, 2016, WSI accepted liability for a contusion of the lower back and pelvis and a right ankle sprain. By November 2016, an independent medical examination revealed Salat's ankle injury had not healed and was not at pre-injury status, but low back pain was unrelated to the work injury. Salat's personal physician reviewed the IME's opinion and did not have any "objective findings on physical exam to challenge or disagree with his medical opinion." On August 5, 2016, WSI issued an order discontinuing Salat’s disability benefits after June 29, 2016. On December 15, 2016, WSI issued a notice of decision denying further benefits of Salat’s lumbar spine after November 11, 2016. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the discontinuation of benefits, finding Salat's physician's statement was misunderstood by the district court as a "blanket agreement" with the independent medical examiner: Salat's physician's "statement is better understood as stating she had no objective findings on physical exam to challenge or disagree with [the IME] opinion regarding the source of Salat’s back pain." On this record, the Supreme Court surmised the ALJ could have reasonably found the two physicians had conflicting medical opinions on the source of continued back pain, and that a "reasoning mind reasonably could determine" Salat suffered low back pain after November 11, 2016 that was attributable to the compensable work injury. View "WSI v. Salat, et al." on Justia Law

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John Hughes appeals from a district court order dismissing his negligence action. In 2012, Olheiser Masonry employee Harley Rapp, and Hughes collided in a forklift and motor vehicle accident. Rapp was driving a forklift and Hughes was driving a pickup truck. Hughes filed a complaint with the district court on May 22, 2018, alleging injuries as a result of the negligence of Rapp, Curt Olheiser, and Olheiser Masonry. Hughes mailed his complaint and summons to the Stark County Sheriff’s Department the same day, requesting the documents be served on the defendants. The Stark County sheriff’s department did not receive the documents until May 31, 2018. Olheiser, Olheiser Masonry, and Rapp were served by the sheriff’s department on June 1 and 2, 2018. On October 11, 2018, Olheiser, Olheiser Masonry, and Rapp filed a motion to dismiss arguing the action was not commenced until after the statute of limitations expired. The district court granted the motion to dismiss and concluded the action was not commenced until after the statute of limitations expired because the Stark County sheriff’s department did not receive the summons until May 31, 2018. Hughes appealed, arguing mailing of a summons and complaint to the sheriff’s department should have been treated as delivery for purposes of commencing his civil action. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order. View "Hughes v. Olheiser Masonry, et al." on Justia Law

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Huey Brock appealed judgments dismissing his negligence action against Richard Price and KS Industries, LLC (“LLC”) and awarding Price and LLC costs and disbursements in the amount of $181,467. Price and LLC cross-appealed the judgment awarding costs and disbursements. In 2011, Brock was severely injured in a traffic accident while traveling in a company-owned vehicle with Price and another LLC employee, resulting in Brock becoming quadriplegic. Days later WSI accepted his claim for benefits. In June 2012, Brock, WSI, and LLC entered into a stipulation that Brock would continue to receive WSI benefits while seeking workers’ compensation benefits in California from KS Industries, LP (“LP”). The stipulation further provided that WSI would cease paying benefits if his claim against LP’s insurance carrier were accepted and his attorney would act in trust for WSI in pursuing reimbursement of funds paid in connection with Brock’s claim. Brock then filed an application for California workers’ compensation benefits claiming he was employed by LP at the time of the accident. Based on a California administrative decision, LP’s workers’ compensation carrier commenced paying benefits to Brock and reimbursed WSI all funds expended on Brock. In 2014, WSI issued a notice of decision reversing its prior decision accepting Brock’s claim. In February 2015, Brock brought this negligence action against Price and LLC. Brock moved for summary judgment arguing collateral estoppel based on the California administrative proceedings precluded Price and LLC from arguing LLC was Brock’s employer rather than LP, and therefore his action was not barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of North Dakota law. In November 2018, Price and LLC filed a motion for summary judgment arguing collateral estoppel did not apply and the exclusive remedy provisions applied to bar Brock’s action against LLC and his co-worker, Price. The district court agreed and dismissed the action. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the negligence action because it was indeed barred by the Workforce Safety and Insurance Act’s exclusive remedy provisions. The Court reversed the award of costs and disbursements and remanded for the court to hold a hearing on Brock’s objections required by N.D.R.Civ.P. 54(e)(2). View "Brock v. Price, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s judgment and amended judgment dismissing their complaint. In May 2016, Lyle Lima was driving his truck on a highway when he collided with a horse-drawn hay trailer. The collision killed one of the five passengers on the horse-drawn trailer and injured the others. In April 2015, a doctor at Dakota Eye Institute determined Lima to be legally blind, prepared a certificate of blindness, and instructed Lima and his spouse that he was not to drive. In April 2016, about six weeks before the collision, a second Dakota Eye Institute doctor, Briana Bohn, examined Lima. Dr. Bohn measured Lima’s vision as being “improved” and “told Lyle Lima he could drive, with some restrictions.” Plaintiffs claimed Dr. Bohn was liable for medical malpractice because Lima’s eyesight, although improved, was still below the minimum vision standards required to operate a vehicle in North Dakota under N.D. Admin. Code ch. 37-08-01. The injured parties and their representatives made a claim against Lima, which he could not fully satisfy. In partial settlement of the claim, Lima assigned his medical malpractice claim against Dakota Eye Institute and any recovery he might receive to the other plaintiffs. The injured parties and Lima then filed this suit individually and as assignees of Lima against Dr. Bohn, Dakota Eye Institute P.C., and Dakota Eye Institute LLC. The defendants filed two motions to dismiss: one arguing Lima’s claims were not assignable and should be dismissed under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and one arguing the affidavit failed to meet the requirements of N.D.C.C. § 28-01-46. At the hearing on the motions, the parties also argued whether North Dakota law extends liability for medical malpractice to a third party who was not a patient. The district court granted the motions to dismiss. Before the North Dakota Supreme Court, the parties disputed whether a physician in North Dakota owed a duty to third parties to warn a patient regarding vision impairments to driving; whether medical malpractice claims were assignable; and whether the medical expert affidavit met the requirements of N.D.C.C. 28-01-46. The Supreme Court concluded physicians did not owe a duty to third parties under these circumstances, Lima’s malpractice claim was assignable, and the expert affidavit was sufficient to avoid dismissal. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Cichos, et al. v. Dakota Eye Institute, P.C., et al." on Justia Law

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In 2014, Leonard Taylor, then 55 years old, sustained severe work-related injuries when he fell 15 feet while employed as an electrician by Industrial Contractors, Inc. Taylor suffered multiple compression fractures of the thoracic vertebrae, with a fragment impinging the spinal cord resulting in partial paraplegia. Taylor underwent surgery and was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury, incomplete paraplegia at T5-6, neurogenic bowel and bladder, a closed head injury, and neuropathic pain. While at the hospital, Taylor exhibited numerous signs of cognitive dysfunction. Taylor was eventually transferred to a hospital rehabilitation unit where he received physical, occupational, and cognitive therapy. WSI accepted liability for Taylor’s claim and paid him benefits. WSI appealed a judgment affirming an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) order finding Taylor had a retained earnings capacity of zero and he had good cause for noncompliance with vocational rehabilitation for failing to perform a good faith work search. Because the ALJ misapplied the law in determining Taylor had zero retained earnings capacity, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the judgment and remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings. View "WSI v. Taylor, et al." on Justia Law

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Jack Robinson appeals from a district court judgment affirming a Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) order finding Robinson personally liable for any unpaid workers’ compensation premiums, penalties, interest, and costs owed by Dalton Logistics, Inc. (“Dalton”). Robinson argues WSI failed to properly serve him with the administrative order resulting in a lack of personal jurisdiction and that his due process rights were violated. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the ALJ failed to make any findings of fact to support its conclusion that Robinson’s motion to dismiss be denied as a matter of law. It therefore reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded to the agency for further proceedings. View "Robinson v. WSI" on Justia Law