Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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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

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Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) appealed a judgment affirming an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) decision that John Sandberg sustained a compensable injury because his repetitive work activities substantially worsened the severity of his preexisting degenerative disc condition. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the ALJ’s findings were not sufficient to understand the basis for the decision. The decision was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "WSI v. Sandberg, et al." on Justia Law

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Kelly McCarthy appealed after a district court dismissed her complaint against Dr. Ariane Getz with prejudice. On September 23, 2015, McCarthy’s daughter died by suicide. Prior to her death, McCarthy’s daughter received psychological counseling from Dr. Getz for several months for symptoms relating to anxiety and depression. McCarthy’s daughter had ten total visits with Dr. Getz, occurring roughly once to twice a month. McCarthy’s daughter was a minor when she was first seen by Dr. Getz, but turned 18 prior to her death. During the course of her visits with Dr. Getz, McCarthy’s daughter expressed self-injurious behavior, anxiety, depression, passive thoughts about suicide, discord with her mother, and inconsistency in taking her medications. McCarthy’s daughter’s last visit with Dr. Getz occurred on September 10, 2015. On September 23, 2015, prior to discovering her daughter’s death, McCarthy contacted Dr. Getz to report her daughter missing. McCarthy requested Dr. Getz put her daughter on a 72-hour hold once located. On September 22, 2017, one day shy of the two-year anniversary of her daughter’s death, McCarthy filed a complaint with the district court. On November 9, 2017, McCarthy filed a summons and complaint alleging malpractice against Dr. Getz. McCarthy’s issue on appeal was whether the district court erred as a matter of law in granting the motion for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in determining McCarthy’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations. View "McCarthy v. Getz" on Justia Law

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Branden Wilkens appealed a district court judgment and order dismissing his complaint against Tarin Westby without prejudice, concluding service under N.D.C.C. 39-01-11 was improper. Wilkens and Westby were involved in a car accident in North Dakota, resulting in Westby’s death. In February 2018, Wilkens served a summons and complaint asserting a claim of negligence against Westby upon the director of the Department of Transportation (“the Department”) under N.D.C.C. 39-01-11, which allowed residents to serve legal process upon the director of the Department when the party being served was: (1) a resident absent from the state continuously for at least six months following an accident, or (2) a nonresident. In March 2018, an attorney answered on Westby’s behalf, moving to dismiss the complaint, arguing personal jurisdiction was lacking and service under the statute was improper, because Westby, a deceased person, did not fit into the definition of “nonresident,” under the statute and was not “absent from the state” by virtue of his death. The district court concluded Westby was neither a “nonresident,” nor “absent from the state” by virtue of his death for purposes of service. The court granted Westby’s motion to dismiss without prejudice, basing its decision on lack of jurisdiction, but recognized the practical effect, based on the statute of limitations, would be a dismissal with prejudice. Wilkens appealed from the court’s order dismissing his claim. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wilkens v. Westby" on Justia Law

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Mark Klein appealed a judgment following a jury verdict awarding him compensatory damages resulting from a vehicular accident. Klein and Sarah Luithle were in a vehicular accident in 2011 (Luithle died in 2014 from unrelated causes). The case was tried before a jury in August 2018. Prior to trial, Luithle’s Estate moved the district court to exclude two of Klein’s witnesses, Reg Gibbs and Scott Stradley, Ph.D., arguing their testimony and opinions did not meet the requirements of N.D.R.Ev. 702 and 703. The court denied the motion, stating the arguments raised by Luithle’s Estate went to the credibility of the experts, not to the admissibility of their testimony. On the second day of trial, Bill Rosen, M.D., testified as Klein’s medical expert witness. After Dr. Rosen testified, Luithle’s Estate moved to strike part of Dr. Rosen’s testimony, arguing it did not meet the reasonable degree of medical certainty standard and was therefore speculative and inadmissible. After acknowledging Klein’s continuing objection, the court struck all of Dr. Rosen’s testimony. The court also excluded proposed testimony from Gibbs and Stradley because it held there was a lack of foundation for these experts to testify without Dr. Rosen’s testimony. The jury determined Klein was 25% at fault and Luithle was 75% at fault for the accident that caused Klein’s injuries. On appeal, Klein argued the district court incorrectly struck the entirety of his expert witness’s testimony from the record and improperly excluded testimony from two other expert witnesses under N.D.R.Ev. 702 and 703. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined Klein’s substantial rights were affected because his medical expert’s testimony was completely struck and Klein was significantly limited in proving both past and future damages. Additionally, the matter of medical expenses was a major issue at trial, and exclusion of Klein’s only medical expert left him to rely solely on the medical witness called by Luithle’s Estate. Therefore, the Court remanded for a new trial. View "Klein v. Estate of Luithle" on Justia Law