Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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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

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The Bjornebys insured their farming operation with a Nodak Mutual insurance policy. Bryan Hurst was their insurance agent. During potato harvest, a fire started in the break room of the Bjornebys' potato washing facility. The fire spread and caused substantial damage. The Bjornebys filed an insurance claim, and Nodak Mutual covered a number of losses. Nodak Mutual, however, refused to cover certain potatoes because the Bjornebys reported the potatoes after they became aware of the fire. The Bjornebys sued alleging Nodak Mutual breached their insurance contract and Hurst was negligent. A jury returned a general verdict in the Bjornebys' favor; the verdict did not allocate liability between Nodak Mutual and Hurst. Nodak Mutual and Hurst moved for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial. The district court denied their motions. Both Nodak Mutual and Hurst appealed. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision. View "Bjorneby v. Nodak Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Penny Bartholomay, individually for herself and the heirs of her deceased husband, Jon Bartholomay, appealed a judgment dismissing her wrongful death action against Jon Bartholomay's former employer, Plains Grain & Agronomy, LLC. On January 18, 2013, Jon was loading grain into railcars at the Sheldon Grain Elevator as an employee of Plains, which was an insured employer under the Workforce Safety and Insurance Act, N.D.C.C. tit. 65. Jon fell from the top of a railcar he was loading and suffered serious injuries. Plains had no safety equipment in place to protect against falls, but intended to install a fall protection system. Jon never regained consciousness and died as a result of his injuries approximately one month after the . Penny Bartholomay sued Plains for wrongful death damages alleging it intentionally exposed Jon to unsafe working conditions. Plains answered and claimed the lawsuit was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Act. The district court granted summary judgment dismissing the lawsuit because, as a matter of law, Plains' alleged conduct did not rise to the level of an intentional act done with the conscious purpose of inflicting the injury. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, because the facts alleged did not provide a genuine issue of material fact to avoid the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workforce Safety and Insurance Act. View "Bartholomay v. Plains Grain & Agronomy, LLC" on Justia Law

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Audra Woody attended a fireworks display at the Pembina County Fair in Hamilton, N.D. The Fair is a non-profit and tax-exempt corporation. The Fair offered a fireworks display to the public free of charge. Woody did not pay a fee for entry onto the fairgrounds or for any activity she engaged in at the fairgrounds. While looking for a seat to watch the fireworks, Woody stepped on a rotten board in the grandstand, fell to the ground and suffered personal injuries. Woody sued the Fair alleging she sustained serious bodily injury due to the Fair's negligence and maintenance of the grandstand. The parties stipulated to the facts of the case and the Fair moved to dismiss the complaint, alleging no genuine issues of material fact existed. The district court granted summary judgment for the Fair, finding it was protected from liability by recreational use immunity under N.D.C.C. ch. 53-08. Woody appealed. Woody argued the district court erred granting summary judgment because it misapplied North Dakota's recreational use immunity statutes. Woody alleged the Fair was not entitled to immunity because the Fair was engaged in commercial, rather than recreational purposes. Finding no reversible error in the trial district court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Woody v. Pembina County Annual Fair & Exhibition Association" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Amy Hiltner was seriously injured when she fell off the trunk of a moving vehicle driven by Samantha Denault. Denault's insurer paid Hiltner its liability limit under a policy covering the vehicle. Owners Insurance Company provided underinsured coverage to Hiltner in an automobile policy issued to her father. In 2012, Hiltner sued Owners in state court for underinsured motorist coverage benefits under North Dakota law, alleging she was injured as a result of driver Denault's negligent operation of the motor vehicle. Owners removed the action from state court to the United States District Court in North Dakota. The United States District Court for the District of North Dakota certified then certified a question of North Dakota law to the North Dakota Supreme Court regarding the proper calculation of an offset provision to underinsured motorist coverage. The questions was "[w]hether the court should deduct no-fault benefits from the award of past economic damages before reduction for the percentage of fault attributable to plaintiff and other parties for whose conduct the defendant is not responsible." The Supreme Court answered the certified question, "No." View "Hiltner v. Owners Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In 2011, Chase Koller and his girlfriend Stephanie Nelson were killed when Koller allegedly lost control of an all-terrain vehicle. Nelson was the mother of G.K., a child from a previous relationship. Becky Anderson, Koller's mother, was the registered owner of the vehicle. The vehicle was insured under a policy issued by Nodak Mutual Insurance Company. Todd Anderson, Koller's stepfather, was the named insured. The policy provided coverage for any "family member" of the named insured, up to $100,000 per incident. The policy defined a "family member" as "a person related to you by blood, marriage or adoption, including a ward or foster child, who is a resident of your household." The policy included a "step-down" endorsement that reduced the policy limits to $25,000 per incident if the vehicle was being driven by an insured who was not a "family member" of the named insured. After the fatal accident, Nodak retained an attorney to represent Anderson to prepare probate documents. Nodak then sued Anderson in her capacity as Personal Representative to the Estate of Chase Koller, and Chris Kemp, as guardian of G.K., and the heirs of Stephanie Nelson, seeking a declaration that it was only liable to pay the reduced step-down policy limits because Koller was not a resident of Todd Anderson's household and, therefore, was not a "family member" under the policy. Kemp filed an answer, cross-claim, and third-party complaint asserting wrongful death against Anderson in her capacity as Personal Representative, and asserting negligent entrustment against Todd and Anderson individually, claiming the family car doctrine applied. The district court severed Kemp's wrongful death claim from Nodak's declaratory judgment action. In the declaratory judgment action, Kemp moved for summary judgment. Nodak responded to Kemp's motion for summary judgment arguing that the district court should deny Kemp's motion and grant summary judgment in its favor. After a hearing, the district court entered an order granting Kemp's motion for summary judgment determining that Koller was a resident of the Andersons' household under Nodak's policy. Before the district court entered judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court decided "Nodak Mutual Ins. Co. v. Bahr-Renner," (842 N.W.2d 912), interpreting an identical "step-down" provision. After reviewing "Bahr-Renner," the district court vacated its order granting Kemp's motion for summary judgment applied the "Bahr-Renner" factors, and found that Koller was not a resident of Todd Anderson's household and, Nodak was only required to pay the "step-down" policy limits. Kemp appealed from the district court's declaratory judgment in favor of Nodak. Finding no error with the district court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Nodak Mutual Ins. Co. v. Koller" on Justia Law