Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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St. Alexius Medical Center, d/b/a CHI St. Alexius Health Bismarck, requested a supervisory writ preventing enforcement of the district court’s order compelling disclosure of privileged information. Kevin McKibbage sued Daniel Dixon, Bone & Joint Center, and CHI for medical malpractice relating to a surgery Dixon performed in 2017. In response to McKibbage’s discovery requests, CHI produced some of the requested documents and asserted privileges on others. CHI provided a privilege log identifying undisclosed documents and the privileges claimed. McKibbage filed a motion to compel arguing CHI did not provide sufficient information in the privilege log. CHI responded that it identified all the information it could without violating the peer review law, but CHI agreed to produce an amended privilege log containing greater descriptions. The district court found the law permitted the disclosure of additional information and ordered the following to be disclosed: the dates the documents were created, the identity of the person who created each document and their position at the time of creation, and the identity of the person who received each document and their position for peer review. CHI argued to the North Dakota Supreme Court that the disclosures violated North Dakota’s statutory peer review privilege. The Supreme Court granted CHI's petition and directed the district court to vacate its November 8, 2021 discovery order. View "St. Alexius Medical Center v. Nesvig, et al." on Justia Law

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Robyn Krile appealed a judgment dismissing her defamation claims against Julie Lawyer. In 2017, Assistant State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer received an anonymous letter concerning a Bismarck police officer’s destruction of evidence. During Lawyer’s investigation, she reviewed the file of Sergeant Robyn Krile and concluded Krile had made false statements as a Bismarck police officer. Lawyer sent a letter (“Giglio letter”) to Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin summarizing her investigation into Krile’s file and stating her belief that Krile had made false statements as a Bismarck police officer. Lawyer informed Chief Donlin that such information would have to be disclosed to the defense in cases in which Krile was involved pursuant to Giglio and, as a result, the Burleigh County State’s Attorney’s Office would no longer use Krile as a witness in its cases. The Bismarck Police Department terminated Krile’s employment because the Burleigh County State’s Attorney’s Office was no longer willing to use Krile as a witness. Krile filed a complaint with the Department of Labor and Human Rights claiming the Bismarck Police Department discriminated against her based on race and sex. As part of the Department of Labor’s investigation, the Bismarck Police Department submitted two affidavits of Lawyer in which she explained the circumstances and her reasoning for issuing the Giglio letter. The Department of Labor concluded the Bismarck Police Department did not unlawfully discriminate against Krile. In March 2019, Krile sued Lawyer in her official and individual capacity for defamation. The complaint alleged Lawyer defamed Krile by publishing the Giglio letter to the Bismarck Police Department, specifically Chief Donlin, and by publishing her affidavits to the Department of Labor in the course of its investigation. The complaint also alleged Lawyer defamed Krile by publishing the Giglio letter to the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board and by publishing the Giglio letter and related information to Krile’s prospective employers. Appealing the district court's judgment, Krile argued the district court erred by failing to consider all of the materials the parties submitted and thereby treat the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. She also argued the court erred in dismissing her defamation claims. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding Krile failed to plead a valid claim for defamation. View "Krile v. Lawyer" on Justia Law

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Cudd Pressure Control, Inc. and WISCO, Inc. appealed a judgment entered in favor of Murex Petroleum Corporation in a personal injury case. As between WISCO and Murex, the case presented the question of whether a defense and indemnification provision in a contract applied. As between Cudd and Murex, the case presented a question of whether the district court abused its discretion when it sanctioned Cudd for spoliation of evidence. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court erred as a matter of law when it granted summary judgment for Murex determining the defense and indemnification provision applied. The Supreme Court also concluded the trial court abused its discretion when it sanctioned Cudd. Therefore, the Court reversed those portions of the judgment. Because the sanctions included an adverse inference instruction against Cudd at trial that may have affected the jury’s fault determination, the case was remanded for a new trial on the issue of fault apportionment. View "Simmons v. Cudd Pressure Control, et al." on Justia Law

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Michael and Mindy Zepeda appealed a district court judgment dismissing their claims for failure to prosecute and the denial of their post-judgment request to alter or amend the judgment. On November 25, 2013, Michael and Mindy Zepeda commenced a personal injury action against Adam and Mason Cool by service of summons and complaint. The personal injury action arose from a December 2011 assault by the Cools on Michael Zepeda resulting in Michael Zepeda sustaining injuries. Over six years later, on January 7, 2020, the Zepedas filed the summons and complaint. On July 17, 2020, the Zepedas filed a motion for reconsideration arguing the district court erred in dismissing the action because they appropriately pursued their claim under the circumstances. The court denied the motion as lacking merit after determining the request for relief under N.D.R.Civ.P. 59(j) was untimely and there was no other sufficient basis to warrant reconsideration. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, concluding the court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the Zepedas’ claims for failure to prosecute. View "Zepeda, et al. v. Cool, et al." on Justia Law

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Lorne Jay appealed a district court judgment ordering Jay pay Lawrence Lavallie $946,421.76. Lavallie commenced this personal injury action after he was involved in a motor vehicle accident with Jay and Michael Charette. In Lavallie v. Jay, 945 N.W.2d 288, the North Dakota Surpeme Court retained its jurisdiction while remanding the case back to the district court for further determination on subject matter jurisdiction. Relying on the findings of the district court, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded with directions to vacate the judgment and to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Lavallie v. Jay, et al." on Justia Law

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In June 2008, Scot Decker sustained work related injuries while he was working for Cyclone Drilling, Inc. in Mountrail County, North Dakota. WSI accepted liability and Decker received more than $1,250,000 in benefits from WSI. In June 2014, Decker signed a third party notice of legal representation advising WSI that he retained an attorney and planned to bring an action against a third party for the work related injuries. The notice stated Decker would act as a trustee for WSI’s subrogated interest. The notice also included a lien notice, advising that WSI had a lien in the full amount it paid in all benefits for Decker’s claim and that WSI could sue if Decker received any money related to the claim from a third party and WSI did not receive payment of its lien within 30 days of the third party’s payment to Decker. Decker brought an action against I.E. Miller Services, Inc., received a favorable verdict, and was awarded $2,045,972.60 in damages. In December 2018, WSI issued a subrogation order, finding it paid Decker for his work related injury and Decker failed to pay WSI’s subrogation interest and lien within 30 days. Decker requested a hearing before an ALJ. Decker alleged WSI incorrectly applied the law, it inappropriately included in the subrogation order benefits paid related to medical negligence which is the subject of a separate third-party action, and it did not properly determine the amount of its lien. Decker also argued WSI did not have a right to recovery of its lien before attorney’s fees and litigation expenses were paid. The ALJ ruled in favor of WSI, and Decker appealed. Decker argued the district court erred in concluding it does not have jurisdiction and dismissing his appeal. The North Dakota Supreme Court found Decker brought his appeal in Burleigh County District Court, and it was undisputed that Decker did not reside in Burleigh County and that his injuries did not occur in Burleigh County. Because N.D.C.C. 65-10-01 applied and required Decker to bring the appeal in the county where he resided or the county where the injury was inflicted, the Burleigh County district court did not have jurisdiction over the appeal. Dismissal was affirmed. View "Decker v. WSI" on Justia Law

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WSI appealed a judgment ordering payment of death benefits to Gloria Felan. In 2017, Fred Felan was injured when driving a loaded truck that tipped on its side. Julie Schulz of KBO Farms, Fred’s employer, arrived at the scene a short time later. Fred declined an ambulance but agreed to allow Schulz to drive him to the hospital. At the hospital Fred complained of left chest and rib pain. X-rays taken at the hospital did not reveal any fractures. The next morning, Schulz picked Fred up from the hotel. She noted Fred was falling asleep during the meal and expressed concern he should return to the hospital to get checked again. Fred declined. Fred was discovered dead in his hotel room two days after the accident. WSI accepted Fred’s claim for injuries relating to his truck accident for contusion of thorax. WSI also did not believe Fred died from his work-related injury because Fred had multiple health problems including some related to his heart and diabetes. An autopsy confirmed Fred died of congestive cardiomyopathy and arteriosclerotic heart disease. Gloria thereafter filed a claim for death benefits. WSI would deny this claim, but an ALJ reversed the agency’s denial. WSI argued the ALJ and the district court misapplied the law by failing to properly apply N.D.C.C. 65-01-02(11)(a)(3). The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the ALJ and district court, finding the ALJ was not provided objective evidence of the claimed injury: Fred died of a cardiac arrhythmia caused by blunt force trauma to his chest cavity. However, a medical expert admitted there was no objective medical evidence that an arrhythmia occurred. Rather, the conclusion the expert reached was a result of deductive reasoning. “As our precedent indicates, objective medical evidence may be established by a physician’s medical opinion based on an examination, a patient’s medical history, and the physician’s education and experience. However, objective medical evidence may not be established solely by deductive reasoning. On this record, the ALJ erred in concluding there was objective medical evidence of a cardiac arrhythmia.” View "WSI v. Felan, et al." on Justia Law

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Jordan Morsette appealed an amended judgment ordering him to pay $242 million in compensatory damages and $885 million in punitive damages to Plaintiffs Shayna Monson; Lee Zander, individually and on behalf of Taylor Goven, deceased; and Jason Renschler, individually and on behalf of Abby Renschler, deceased. In June 2015, while driving on the wrong side of the Bismarck Expressway, Morsette’s vehicle collided head on with Monson’s vehicle. Monson suffered serious bodily injuries, and Goven and Renschler died at the crash scene. Morsette’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.295 percent at the time of the collision. The Plaintiffs sued Morsette for negligence, seeking damages for their injuries. Morsette answered and admitted liability for the accident. The Plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to add a punitive damages claim, alleging Morsette’s conduct was oppressive and malicious. The district court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion, finding they “met the threshold of malice necessary to amend the complaint to request punitive damages.” Morsette argued the district court erred in admitting evidence of his intoxication, erred in its instructions to the jury, and erred by granting the Plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint to add a punitive damages claim. Morsette also argued the jury’s verdict was excessive. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the amended judgment, finding the district court erred by admitting irrelevant evidence, failing to properly instruct the jury, and in concluding there was sufficient evidence to support a punitive damages claim. The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "Zander, et al. v. Morsette" on Justia Law

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Melissa Oster and N.B. appealed two orders denying motions for a new trial after a jury awarded a verdict in N.B.’s favor. Oster and her daughter, N.B., were staying at a residence owned by Kevin Terwilliger. Josh and Samantha Terwilliger were formerly married and lived at the residence. Samantha Terwilliger (nka Seewalker), was Oster’s cousin. In 2015, N.B. was playing with another child outside the Terwilliger residence while Oster and Seewalker were in the house. Josh and Kevin Terwilliger were not present. A horse on the Terwilliger property kicked N.B. in the head, seriously injuring her. The parties disputed the nature and extent of N.B.’s injuries. At trial, both sides provided testimony of expert medical witnesses to establish the extent of N.B’s injuries. A jury returned a verdict i favor of N.B. The jury did not award Oster damages and found her 45% at fault for N.B.’s accident. The jury attributed 0% fault to Kevin Terwilliger. Of the remaining fault, 30% was attributed to Josh Terwilliger and 25% to Seewalker. After the trial, two motions for a new trial were filed on behalf of N.B., not Oster. The district court denied the motions. N.B. and Oster appealed. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's orders denying the motions for a new trial. View "N.B. et al. v. Terwilliger, et al." on Justia Law

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North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) appealed a district court judgment affirming an ALJ’s revised order on remand, entered after the North Dakota Supreme Court's decision in State by & through Workforce Safety & Ins. v. Sandberg, 2019 ND 198, 931 N.W.2d 488 (“Sandberg I”). The ALJ’s revised order made additional findings of fact and conclusions of law, and again found John Sandberg had sustained a compensable injury and was entitled to benefits. Under its deferential standard of review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part; however, in light of the ALJ’s revised order, the Court remanded the case to WSI for further proceedings on whether benefits should have been awarded on an aggravation basis and the proper calculation of those benefits under N.D.C.C. 65-05-15. View "WSI v. Sandberg, et al." on Justia Law