Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Pamela Neppel, individually and as the parent and legal guardian of Z.N., an incapacitated individual, appealed amended judgment entered after a jury trial. She also appealed denying leave to amend her complaint, an order for an amended judgment, and an order denying her motion for attorney fees and costs. Development Homes, Inc. (DHI) cross appealed an order denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law. Z.N., at the time of the incident giving rise to this case, was living at a residential care facility operated by DHI. Neppel was Z.N.’s mother. Neppel filed this lawsuit alleging Z.N. was raped by another resident, referred to as S.O., who lived on the same floor of the facility as Z.N.’s housemate. Neppel alleged DHI had knowledge S.O. was a sexual predator and Z.N. was susceptible to abuse, yet DHI withheld information from her about the risk of placing the two together. Neppel also alleged DHI did not immediately report the rape or provide prompt and adequate medical care for Z.N. Along with DHI, Neppel sued various DHI employees, as well as S.O.’s co-guardians. The case was tried to a jury on counts of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury returned a verdict awarding Neppel and Z.N. $550,000 in damages. The jury specifically awarded Z.N. $100,000 for damages caused by DHI’s negligence. The jury also awarded Z.N. and Neppel $400,000 and $50,000 in damages, respectively, for past and future severe emotional distress caused by DHI. The jury did not find any of the individually-named defendants liable. DHI filed a motion to amend the judgment asserting it was entitled to charitable immunity under N.D.C.C. ch. 32-03.3, which set liability limits for certain charitable organizations. The court granted the motion and entered an amended judgment that applied the $250,000 charitable organization liability limit. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the order denying Neppel leave to amend her complaint and the order denying her motion for attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Court reversed the order denying DHI’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, finding Neppel’s appeal from the order for amended judgment was moot. View "Neppel, et al. v. Development Homes, et al." on Justia Law

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BNSF Railway Co. (“BNSF”) appealed a jury verdict and money judgment entered in favor of David Rentz. In July 2012, a tractor-trailer driven by Rentz was struck by a train operated by BNSF and train engineer, Reinaldo Guitian, Jr. The collision occurred at a public railroad grade crossing. In December 2015, Rentz sued BNSF and Guitian for personal injuries sustained during the vehicle/train collision. Guitian was subsequently dismissed as a named defendant in the action. Trial was held over eleven days in January 2019. Guitian was designated as BNSF’s party representative under N.D.R.Ev. 615 and was not sequestered from the courtroom. The jury returned a verdict finding Rentz 15% at fault and BNSF 85% at fault. A money judgment was entered in favor of Rentz. BNSF asserted it was denied a fair trial because: (1) BNSF’s designated representative at trial was allowed to be questioned beyond the scope of his knowledge; (2) video and audio clips taken from discovery depositions of BNSF’s designated representatives were improperly played during opening and closing arguments; (3) BNSF’s internal operating procedures were improperly used to modify the standard of care; and (4) opinion testimony of the investigating highway patrol trooper was excluded from evidence. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the questioning of BNSF’s representative at trial exceeded his personal knowledge and affected a substantial right, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Rentz v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Chris Oden appealed a judgment entered against him in a collection action after the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the State, through Workforce Safety and Insurance, (“WSI”). In May 2010, Oden was injured in Missouri while employed by Minot Builders Supply Associates as a truck driver. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Oden’s motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process, and did not err in granting summary judgment to WSI. View "WSI v. Oden" on Justia Law

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John and Tammy Sadek, the surviving parents of Andrew Sadek ("Andrew"), appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Jason Weber and Richland County, North Dakota. Defendant Jason Weber was a deputy with the Richland County Sheriff’s Office and a member of the South East Multi-County Agency Narcotics Task Force (“SEMCA”). Richland County was Weber’s employer and a participating agency in SEMCA. In 2013 Andrew Sadek was a student at the North Dakota State College of Science. In April 2013, two confidential informants purchased small quantities of marijuana from Andrew on two occasions. On November 21, 2013, officers searched Andrew's dorm room and found a marijuana grinder. At the time of the search, Weber informed Andrew about the felony charges he could face for the two April 2013 marijuana deliveries, and told him he could either take the charges or sign up to work as a confidential informant. Weber stated “a lot of this could go away” in exchange for his work as a confidential informant. Andrew agreed to work as a confidential informant, signing a Cooperating Individual Agreement. Weber told Andrew it was important for him not to tell anyone, including other law enforcement, that he was working as an informant. By January 2014, Andrew did three controlled buys of marijuana from two people, but subsequently lost contact with Weber. In April 2014, Weber told Andrew he would pursue the felony charges unless Andrew was able to line up additional controlled buys. Weber gave Andrew a deadline of May 1, 2014, to get the next deal done. On that day, Andrew was reported missing. His remains were found over a month later in the Red River; his backpack was tied to him and was full of rocks. The coroner determined Sadek died of a gunshot wound to the head, but the range of fire was not determined. No determination was made whether the cause of death was homicide, suicide or accidental. Andrew's parents sued Weber and Richland County, asserting claims of deceit and negligence. They alleged his death was directly related to his role as a confidential informant. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined that due to the lack of available evidence to suggest how, when, or even where Andrew died, a conclusion that his death was proximately caused by Defendants’ acts or omissions would be based on speculation. Therefore, summary judgment was appropriate and the district court did not err. View "Sadek, et al. v. Weber, et al." on Justia Law

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North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) appealed a district court judgment reversing an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) decision terminating Gregory Beam’s benefits. Beam was injured in 2016 while working for his employer, Gagnon, Inc. (Gagnon), installing sheets of metal. At the time Beam applied for workers compensation benefits, Gagnon submitted a job description for machinist as Beam’s position with the company at the time of his injuries. A Functional Capacity Evaluation identified Beam could occasionally climb ladders and kneel, but was unable to crouch or crawl. After completion of the evaluation, WSI identified Beam’s transferable skills and physical capabilities. WSI determined Beam’s pre-injury occupation was that of a sheet metal worker, not a machinist as submitted by Gagnon. WSI forwarded a list of job descriptions to Beam’s treating physician, Dr. Kelly, for approval. The description for the physical requirements of a machinist stated the position required “[o]ccasional stooping, kneeling and crouching;” the description for a sheet metal worker were "“[f]requent stooping, handling and reaching & occasional fingering.” Dr. Kelly did not approve Beam returning to work as a machinist, stating, “I don’t think the knee will tolerate the potential kneeling.” Dr. Kelly did approve Beam returning to work as a sheet metal worker. Based on Dr. Kelly’s approval for Beam to return to work as a sheet metal worker, WSI determined Beam could return to work in the same occupation, any employer, and discontinued Beam’s benefits. The ALJ found the job description of a machinist did not match Beam’s pre-injury profession. The ALJ found the preponderance of the evidence established Beam could return to the occupation of sheet metal worker, but could not return to his pre-injury position with Gagnon. The district court determined the ALJ’s findings of fact were not supported by a preponderance of the evidence and reversed. Applying its deferential standard of review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded there was evidence in the record from which a reasoning mind could have reasonably concluded WSI’s rehabilitation plan would return Beam to substantial gainful employment. It therefore reversed the district court and reinstated the ALJ's decision. View "Beam v. WSI et. al." on Justia Law

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Duane and Lynae Schroeder, parents of Brooke Schroeder, and Lynae Schroeder, as personal representative of the Estate of Brooke Schroeder, appealed the grant of summary judgment dismissing their action against the State of North Dakota related to a car accident, which resulted in their daughter’s death. In January 2017, Brooke was driving a vehicle eastbound on Interstate 94 in Barnes County. Before crossing an overpass at 109th Avenue Southeast, the vehicle drifted out of the eastbound passing lane, hit a snowbank adjacent to the guardrail on the overpass, and vaulted over the guardrail. Brooke was injured in the accident and died. The Schroeders sued the State for economic and non-economic damages, alleging the State’s negligence or gross negligence in performing its winter road maintenance and snow removal obligations caused the accident, Brooke's injuries, and ultimately her death. They claimed the snowbank adjacent to the guardrail eliminated any safety or protection provided by the guardrail and created an unreasonably dangerous condition. On appeal, the Schroeders argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment and determining their claims were precluded because the State was immune from liability under statutory public duty and snow and ice immunities. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court properly determined statutory immunity precluded the Schroeders’ claims. View "Schroeder, et al. v. North Dakota" on Justia Law

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Lawrence Lavallie brought this personal injury action against Lorne Jay and Michael Charette after the parties were involved in a motor vehicle accident. The accident occurred on the night of December 26, 2016, on County Road 43 in Rolette County, North Dakota. Lavallie was driving a snowmobile on the roadway followed by Charette who was driving a GMC Yukon automobile. It was dark with blowing snow and poor visibility. Jay was operating a tractor, and in the process of blowing snow from his driveway. When Lavallie came upon Jay operating the tractor, the tractor was located in the middle of the roadway and did not have any lights or reflectors. Concerned that Charette would not be able to see the tractor in the roadway because it was dark and snowing and because the tractor did not have any lights or reflectors, Lavallie stopped the snowmobile alongside the tractor and tried to get Jay’s attention for him to move the tractor off of the road. While Lavallie was on the parked snowmobile trying to get Jay’s attention, Charette struck the snowmobile. First responders transported Lavallie to the Rolla hospital. Lavallie was transferred to Grand Forks where part of his leg was amputated. Jay appealed when the district court judgment ordered him to pay Lavallie $946,421.76, arguing the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Jay conceded the district court was correct in finding the accident involving the parties in this case occurred outside the external boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Reservation. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the evidence in the record indicated the accident occurred on a county road located on land held in trust for the Tribe. "The question becomes whether district courts maintain subject matter jurisdiction over claims involving conduct between enrolled members of a tribe occurring on county roads located on Indian trust land." The Supreme Court found the district court did not determine whether the accident occurred on land held in trust for the Tribe. The district court also did not determine whether the parties to this action were enrolled members of the Tribe. Without such findings, the Supreme Court was unable to adequately consider whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Lavallie’s claims. Therefore, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lavallie v. Jay, et al." on Justia Law

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Susan Franciere appealed a district court judgment granting the City of Mandan’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction due to insufficient service. In 2017, Franciere and her dog were attacked by a dog in Mandan. Days later, she went to the Mandan Police Department, asserted her rights under Article I, section 25 of the North Dakota Constitution, and requested a copy of the police report on the incident under the open records law. Franciere called the police department and was informed the dog was undergoing a 10-day rabies quarantine. Thereafter, Franciere sent a letter to the chief of police requesting the police report. On August 22, 2017, she received a phone call from a police lieutenant who told her she would not receive the report because the case was still active and no information would be released until the case was closed. In September 2017, she contacted the city attorney about the incident. Then in October, Franciere filed this action against the City, alleging violations of the North Dakota Constitution and the open records law. Franciere received a redacted report of the incident from the police department on November 1, 2017. On January 13, 2018, she received an unredacted report from the police department. On November 14, 2018, Franciere filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court declared Franciere’s action moot and dismissed it with prejudice. It declined to rule on Mandan’s motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process and lack of personal jurisdiction. The North Dakota Supreme Court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for determination of Mandan’s motion to dismiss for insufficiency of service of process and lack of personal jurisdiction. Upon reconsideration, the district court granted the City's motion to dismiss with prejudice. Franciere argued Mandan waived its personal jurisdiction claims, the district court improperly dismissed the case with prejudice, the district court erred when it denied her motion to compel discovery, and the district court judge was biased against her. The Supreme Court modified the judgment for dismissal without prejudice, and affirmed as modified. View "Franciere v. City of Mandan" on Justia Law

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Workforce Safety & Insurance (WSI) appealed a district court judgment affirming the administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order concluding Isai Avila was entitled to both the scheduled permanent partial impairment award for vision loss and whole body permanent partial impairment award for additional injuries to his cervical spine, facial bone, acoustic nerve, and brain. In 2015, Avila fell on ice carrying a railroad tie while employed by SM Fencing & Energy Services, Inc., and sustained injuries. WSI issued an order awarding permanent impairment benefits of $34,000 to Avila. Avila requested a hearing. During a second review Avila underwent a permanent impairment evaluation. The evaluation determined Avila had 29% whole body permanent partial impairment which included 16% whole body impairment for vision loss of Avila’s left eye. WSI concluded under N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11) that Avila was entitled to the greater of either the scheduled impairment award or the whole body impairment award, but not both. WSI issued a notice of decision confirming no additional award of permanent impairment benefits was due. Avila again requested a hearing after reconsideration. The sole issue at the administrative hearing was interpretation of the portion of N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11). and whether the statute applied to the same work-related injury or condition, and not impairments for the same work-related incident. Since Avila’s loss of vision in his left eye was the same work-related injury or condition for which Avila received a 100 permanent impairment multiplier (PIM) scheduled injury award, the “loss of vision in left eye” component of the 29% whole body impairment must be subtracted from the award to determine Avila’s additional permanent impairment benefits. The ALJ concluded the additional injuries were not the same work-related injury or condition as the vision loss, and N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11) was not applicable. Therefore, the ALJ determined Avila was entitled to both the scheduled impairment award for vision loss and the whole body impairment award for his additional injuries. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that because Avila had an injury set out in N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11), he was entitled to the greater of the combined rating for all accepted impairments under the AMA Guides or the injury schedule. Here, N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11) provided the greater PIM. Accordingly, WSI correctly determined Avila’s award. The ALJ judgment was not in accordance with the law. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings. View "WSI v. Avila, et al." on Justia Law

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Mark Krebsbach appeals a district court judgment dismissing his lawsuit against Trinity Hospital relating to medical services provided to his wife. Krystal Krebsbach died in June 2016. In September 2013 she was diagnosed with hepatitis C while a patient at the ManorCare nursing home in Minot. Krystal’s diagnosis occurred during a hepatitis C outbreak in the Minot area. In September 2016 Krebsbach moved to intervene in a lawsuit with other plaintiffs against Trinity related to the hepatitis C outbreak. The district court granted Krebsbach’s motion in December 2016. Krebsbach’s complaint against Trinity alleged negligence, fraud, deceit and unlawful sales and advertising practices. Krebsbach claimed negligence and misconduct by Trinity’s staff and management caused Krystal Krebsbach’s hepatitis C. Krebsbach alleged Trinity engaged in actual fraud or deceit by misrepresenting the competency of its care providers and withholding information about its employees’ theft or misuse of drugs (known as drug diversion) and needle reuse. Krebsbach asserted Krystal Krebsbach relied on Trinity’s misrepresentations and allowed Trinity to provide her with phlebotomy services, which caused her to contract hepatitis C. The court dismissed Krebsbach’s action after a special master appointed by the court concluded the two-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice applied to Krebsbach’s action. The special master also concluded the action was barred because Krebsbach had notice of Trinity’s possible negligence more than two years before bringing his lawsuit. Krebsbach claimed the six-year statute of limitations under N.D.C.C. 28-01-16 applies to his negligence claims against Trinity. Before the North Dakota Supreme Court, Krebsbach argued the special master and district court erred in concluding he was on notice of Trinity’s possible negligence more than two years before commencing his action against Trinity. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Krebsbach, et al. v. Trinity Hospitals, Inc., et al." on Justia Law