Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Appellants Keith and Debra Bjerk's son Christian died from an overdose after consuming drugs at a house owned by Kenton Anderson. The district court granted summary judgment dismissing the Bjerks' premises liability and negligent entrustment claims, and the Bjerks appealed. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the facts viewed in a light most favorable to the Bjerks did not support a conclusion that Anderson owed Christian a duty of care under a premises liability theory. The Supreme Court also concluded the Bjerks' negligent entrustment failed as a matter of law because only personal property, and not the real property at issue here, was a potential basis for a negligent entrustment claim. View "Bjerk v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The parents of nine minor children, individually and as guardians of the children, appealed a district court judgment determining the statutory damage cap for tort claims against a political subdivision was constitutional. In January 2015, a collision occurred between a Larimore Public School District bus and a BNSF Railway train. At the time, there were thirteen School District students riding home from school on the bus. One child died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident and the other children suffered serious injuries. The accident resulted in the potential for multiple damage claims in excess of the School District's aggregate statutory cap on liability under the codification of N.D.C.C. 32-12.1-03(2) in effect at the time of the accident, which limited the liability of political subdivisions "to a total of two hundred fifty thousand dollars per person and five hundred thousand dollars for injury to three or more persons during any single occurrence regardless of the number of political subdivisions, or employees of such political subdivisions, which are involved in that occurrence." The School District and its government self-insurance pool, the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund, brought this interpleader action and deposited five hundred thousand dollars with the district court to satisfy the damage cap for claims arising from the accident under the applicable language of N.D.C.C. 32-12.1-03(2). The parents and guardians for some of the children answered and counterclaimed, asserting the damage cap was unconstitutional. The parents argued the damage cap violated the open court, jury trial, equal protection, and special law provisions of the state constitution. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the damage cap did not violate those constitutional provisions, and affirmed the judgment. View "Larimore Public School District No. 44 v. Aamodt" on Justia Law

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The parents of nine minor children, individually and as guardians of the children, appealed a district court judgment determining the statutory damage cap for tort claims against a political subdivision was constitutional. In January 2015, a collision occurred between a Larimore Public School District bus and a BNSF Railway train. At the time, there were thirteen School District students riding home from school on the bus. One child died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident and the other children suffered serious injuries. The accident resulted in the potential for multiple damage claims in excess of the School District's aggregate statutory cap on liability under the codification of N.D.C.C. 32-12.1-03(2) in effect at the time of the accident, which limited the liability of political subdivisions "to a total of two hundred fifty thousand dollars per person and five hundred thousand dollars for injury to three or more persons during any single occurrence regardless of the number of political subdivisions, or employees of such political subdivisions, which are involved in that occurrence." The School District and its government self-insurance pool, the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund, brought this interpleader action and deposited five hundred thousand dollars with the district court to satisfy the damage cap for claims arising from the accident under the applicable language of N.D.C.C. 32-12.1-03(2). The parents and guardians for some of the children answered and counterclaimed, asserting the damage cap was unconstitutional. The parents argued the damage cap violated the open court, jury trial, equal protection, and special law provisions of the state constitution. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the damage cap did not violate those constitutional provisions, and affirmed the judgment. View "Larimore Public School District No. 44 v. Aamodt" on Justia Law

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United Fire & Casualty Company appealed a district court judgment awarding Carol Forsman $249,554.30 in her garnishment action against United Fire, commenced after she settled claims in the underlying suit against Blues, Brews and Bar-B-Ques, Inc., d.b.a. Muddy Rivers. Muddy Rivers was a bar in Grand Forks that was insured by United Fire under a commercial general liability ("CGL") policy. In 2010, Forsman sued Muddy Rivers and Amanda Espinoza seeking damages for injuries to her leg allegedly sustained while a guest at a February 2010 private party at Muddy Rivers. Muddy Rivers notified United Fire of the suit and requested coverage. United Fire denied defense and indemnification based on the policy's exclusions for assault and battery and liquor liability. However, after appeals and reconsideration, the court ruled in Forsman's favor, finding the settlement amount was reasonable. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the court erred in granting summary judgment because material fact issues existed on whether exclusions for "assault and battery" and "liquor liability" in the CGL policy excluded coverage of Forsman's negligence claim against Muddy Rivers. Furthermore, the Court concluded further conclude the court properly granted summary judgment to Forsman holding United Fire had a duty to defend Muddy Rivers under the CGL policy in the underlying suit. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Forsman v. Blues, Brews & Bar-B-Ques Inc." on Justia Law

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North Dakota, by the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Youth Correctional Center, petitioned for a supervisory writ directing a district court to vacate its July 18, 2017 order denying the State's motion for summary judgment on Delmar Markel's negligence claim. Markel cross-petitioned for a supervisory writ directing the district court to vacate its January 21, 2016 order dismissing Markel's claim for constructive and retaliatory discharge. Markel worked at the North Dakota Youth Correctional Center on December 9, 2012, when several inmates broke out of their locked rooms. The inmates injured Markel during their escape. In 2015, Markel brought a complaint against the State alleging one count of negligence for failure to fix faulty locks permitting the inmates to escape and one count of constructive and retaliatory discharge. The State argued that the Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") Act in N.D.C.C. Title 65 barred Markel's negligence claim and that Markel failed to exhaust administrative remedies regarding his discharge claim. On January 21, 2016, the district court dismissed the discharge claim for failure to pursue available administrative remedies. The district court also denied the State's motion to dismiss Markel's negligence claim. The North Dakota Supreme Court exercised its original jurisdiction by granting the State's petition and denying Markel's cross-petition. The district court erred as a matter of law in denying the State's motion to dismiss Markel's negligence claim. Markel failed to allege and support at least an "intentional act done with the conscious purpose of inflicting the injury" to overcome the State's immunity. The State had no adequate remedy to avoid defending a suit from which it has immunity. View "North Dakota v. Haskell" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of North Dakota certified questions of North Dakota law to the North Dakota Supreme Court involving Dawn Vail's right to bring a common law tort action against S/L Services, Inc., for personal injuries she sustained while working for S/L Services. The certified questions and the parties' arguments involved issues about employer immunity and an employee's exclusive or dual remedy for injuries occurring during the course of employment under North Dakota’s statutory provisions for workforce safety and insurance. The Supreme Court concluded the exclusive remedy provisions of North Dakota’s workers' compensation laws did not preclude Vail's tort action against S/L Services under provisions authorizing the action for willfully misrepresenting to Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") the amount of payroll upon which a premium is based, or for willfully failing to secure workers' compensation coverage for employees. View "Vail v. S/L Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Under workers' compensation law, seasonal employment includes occupations that are not permanent or that do not customarily operate throughout the entire year and is determined by what is customary with respect to the employer at the time of injury. Industrial Contractors, Inc., appealed a judgment affirming a decision by an independent administrative law judge determining Leonard Taylor's employment with Industrial Contractors was not seasonal employment. Industrial Contractors argued the ALJ misapplied the law for determining seasonal employment. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the ALJ misapplied the law and the ALJ's decision was not supported by a preponderance of the evidence. View "Industrial Contractors Inc. v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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La Verne Koenig appealed after a jury found no fault in his personal injury lawsuit against Kenneth Schuh and Jason Schuh. Koenig was injured on a farm owned by Patricia Schuh. Koenig bought hay bales located on the Schuh farm. While tightening a strap securing the hay bales to a trailer, Koenig fell resulting in injury. Koenig sued Kenneth, Jason, Patricia and Mary Schuh alleging their fault in strapping the bales to the trailer. Koenig specifically alleged Jason was negligent in assisting him strapping a bale to the trailer and was acting under the direction of Kenneth and Mary Schuh. He alleged Patricia was liable because she owned the land and had a business relationship with the other Schuh defendants. The district court granted summary judgment to Patricia and Mary Schuh before trial. A jury found no fault on the part of Kenneth and Jason Schuh. Koenig argued on appeal: (1) that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment to Patricia and Mary; (2) the lack of a trial transcript denied him a fair and full review on appeal; and (3) he did not receive a fair and full jury trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Koenig v. Schuh" on Justia Law

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Karisa and Roger Frith appealed the dismissal of their complaint against the Park District of the City of Fargo and the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund. The Friths sued the Park District and Fund seeking monetary damages for injuries Karisa allegedly sustained while rollerblading in a Fargo park on July 7, 2012. The Friths alleged Karisa tripped on soft patching material used to fill a crack in the park pathway. The Friths argued the district court erred in dismissing their complaint because it applied the wrong statute of limitations. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in its use of the appropriate statute of limitations to dismiss the case. View "Frith v. Park District of the City of Fargo" on Justia Law

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Samantha Gillespie and her mother, Tina Taylor, appealed the grant of summary judgment dismissing their lawsuit against Taylor's motor vehicle insurer, National Farmers Union, for underinsured motor vehicle coverage. Gillespie and Taylor sued Farmers Union for underinsured motor vehicle coverage, alleging Gillespie was insured under her mother's motor vehicle policy with Farmers Union and was driving a motor vehicle owned by another person when Gillespie lost control of the vehicle and it overturned, resulting in significant injuries to her. According to Gillespie and Taylor, the motor vehicle was owned by Angela Ayers, Gillespie's aunt, and insured by GEICO. Ayers died as a result of the accident and another passenger in the motor vehicle sustained significant injuries. Gillespie and Taylor asserted GEICO paid Gillespie $25,000 in no-fault benefits, but denied her request for liability coverage based on a claim that Ayers negligently entrusted the vehicle to Gillespie, an alleged inexperienced driver who received her learner's permit two days before the accident. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Gillespie and Taylor failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact about whether Gillespie was legally entitled to collect for bodily injury from the owner or operator of an underinsured motor vehicle, and affirmed. View "Gillespie v. National Farmers Union Property & Casualty Co." on Justia Law