Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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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

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Keith Steffes, Kelly Steffes and Tasha (Rohrbach) Steffes appealed a district court order granting Nodak Mutual Insurance Company’s motion for a new trial. The Steffeses argued the district court abused its discretion in vacating the judgment and granting Nodak’s motion for a new trial. The North Dakota Supreme Court dismissed the appeal because the order granting a new trial was not then reviewable. View "Nodak Mutual Insurance Company v. Steffes, et al." on Justia Law

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Tessa Bride, as personal representative of the estate of John Pelkey, appealed an order dismissing without prejudice her medical malpractice action against Trinity Hospital, Marc Eichler, M.D., Kim Koo, M.D., and unnamed others. On September 11, 2015, Pelkey fell at home and was transferred to Trinity where he was treated for spinal cord injuries. Neurosurgeons Dr. Eichler and Dr. Koo both operated on him. On September 20, 2015, Pelkey fell at the hospital and sustained serious injuries. Pelkey died on February 2, 2017. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed because Bride failed to serve an affidavit containing an admissible expert opinion supporting a prima facie case of professional negligence within three months of the commencement of the action and failed to request an extension of the time period to serve the affidavit within the three months as required by N.D.C.C. 28-01-46. View "Bride v. Trinity Hospital, et al." on Justia Law

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Robin Ayling appealed a judgment dismissing her claims against Mary Ann Sens, M.D., UND School of Medicine employees, and the Grand Forks County State’s Attorney and Board of Commissioners relating to her son’s death. Ayling’s son, Blake, was a student at UND. He was last seen alive at an on-campus party at approximately 1:30 a.m. on March 24, 2012. He was found dead in the rail yard south of UND’s campus at approximately 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on March 24, 2012. Dr. Sens performed the autopsy on the same day. She determined Blake was intoxicated, he had a 0.278 blood-alcohol concentration at the time of death, he died from blood loss, and his death was accidental. After learning of the autopsy results, Ayling questioned the blood-alcohol concentration because Blake reportedly did not show signs of intoxication at the party or before the party. Ayling met with Dr. Sens in April 2013, and Sens explained the autopsy report and defended her conclusions. On December 27, 2013, Ayling spoke with a forensic toxicologist who questioned Dr. Sens’ methods in performing the autopsy. The toxicologist believed Blake's urine and vitreous humor should have been tested for alcohol to corroborate the blood test. Ayling sued Dr. Sens, UND School of Medicine employees, and Grand Forks County employees in February 2017, alleging Sens failed to competently perform a medical autopsy as a part of the investigation of Blake's death. Ayling alleged the other Defendants failed to properly supervise Dr. Sens. The district court concluded Ayling’s claims against the Defendants were untimely. After reviewing the record, the North Dakota Supreme Court agreed with the district court that Ayling’s voluminous discovery requests did not relate to the statute of limitations issue and would not have created an issue of material fact supporting denial of the summary judgment motion. The court’s discovery decisions were not an abuse of discretion. View "Ayling v. Sens, et al." on Justia Law

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Dr. Allen Booth and St. Alexius Medical Center appeal from a district court judgment finding North Dakota’s noneconomic damages cap in medical malpractice cases unconstitutional. Dr. Booth and St. Alexius also argue the district court erred in denying a motion for a new trial. On May 29, 2012, Chenille Condon gave birth to a child at St. Alexius Medical Center. Within hours, Condon complained about chest discomfort and shortness of breath. A pulmonary embolism was suspected and testing was ordered in an effort to diagnose the issue. Testing revealed multiple pulmonary nodules in Condon’s mediastinum. Condon was eventually referred to Dr. Booth for a mediastinoscopy for the purpose of collecting a larger tissue sample. The larger tissue sample was necessary for a definitive diagnosis. Not long into the procedure, an injury occurred to Condon’s right innominate artery, resulting in life-threatening bleeding. Condon was placed in intensive care where she had a stroke. The stroke was related to the injury that occurred during surgery. Condon underwent rehabilitation for several months. Condon filed a medical malpractice claim against Dr. Booth. After nine days of proceedings, the jury returned a verdict finding negligence and awarding Condon $265,000 in past economic loss, $1.735-million in future economic loss, $150,000 in past noneconomic loss, and $1.350-million in future noneconomic loss. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the damage cap in N.D.C.C. 32-42-02 did not violate the equal-protection provisions of N.D. Const. art. I, section 21. The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for a reduction in noneconomic damages consistent with the statute. The Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Dr. Booth’s request for a new trial. View "Condon v. St. Alexius Medical Center, et al." on Justia Law