Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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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

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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