Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court

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Petitioner Emilee Mullendore was employed as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) with Mercy Hospital in Ardmore, Oklahoma. While working during her assigned hospital shift, Petitioner entered the fifth floor nutrition room and assembled 8 separate one pound bags of ice for the patients. She then turned to open the door out of the nutrition room, took a step into the doorway and "I felt my right foot slip out to the right and then the top part of my leg and my knee turned in to the left." Petitioner immediately fell onto the floor and was unable to walk on her leg. Petitioner had worked over six hours of her shift without difficulty before her accident. At the time, Petitioner was twenty-one years old. Mullendore was evaluated in the emergency room within a few hours after the accident complaining of "right knee pain - says she just stepped and fell." Petitioner filed a claim to the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission seeking the recovery of medical care for the injury and requested the reservation of the issue of whether she was entitled to recover temporary total disability benefits. Petitioner claimed she sustained a compensable injury to her right knee as a result of an unexplained fall that arose out of her performing employment related services for the hospital. Respondent-hospital denied the claim contending the injury was not work-related but was idiopathic in nature, arising out of a condition that was personal to Petitioner. Both parties retained a physician expert who conducted an exam, reviewed medical records and issued a written report. Neither expert testified at the hearing; the ALJ was provided their respective written reports. Petitioner sought review of the Workers' Compensation Commission's Order en banc, which upheld the administrative law judge's Order Denying Compensability finding that Petitioner's injury to her right leg/knee was idiopathic in origin and noncompensable under the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the Commission en banc. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held Petitioner's knee injury was indeed a "compensable injury" within the meaning of the Oklahoma Administrative Workers' Compensation Act. 85 A O.S. Supp. 2018 section 2 (9)(a). View "Mullendore v. Mercy Hospital Ardmore" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellee Jake Watkins was driving under the influence of alcohol and rear-ended a vehicle owned and operated by plaintiff-appellant Lee McIntosh. McIntosh's vehicle was damaged and he and the former co-plaintiff Anthony McIntosh were injured. Both vehicles pulled over to the shoulder of the road and the parties exited their vehicles to discuss the accident and to inspect the damage. At some point plaintiff stated he needed to call the police to report the accident. When Watkins heard this he returned to his vehicle and fled the scene without providing McIntosh any information required by law. Watkins was later arrested and charged with two counts: (1) driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol; and (2) leaving the scene of an accident involving damage. He pled no contest to the two counts and received a deferred judgment and sentence.Months late, McIntosh signed a settlement agreement which settled all of his bodily injury claims for the sum of $25,000.00. McIntosh was also paid $17,545.66 to fully repair his vehicle and an additional $7,000.00 for the diminution of value claim. The only remaining issue left to be decided by the trial court was whether McIntosh was entitled to receive treble damages for the damage sustained to his vehicle. Watkins moved for summary judgment on the treble damages issue, which the trial court granted, finding McIntosh was not entitled to treble damages due to the fact he had incurred not only property damage to his vehicle but he also sustained a nonfatal injury. McIntosh appealed the trial court's ruling on that issue. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed, finding the treble damage provision in 47 O.S. 2011, section 10-103 applied even if a victim sustains an injury. View "McIntosh v. Watkins" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Kelli Braitsch injured her right arm while employed by the City of Tulsa and after the effective date of the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA). Through her collective bargaining agreement, Braitsch was paid her full salary in lieu of temporary total disability (TTD) payments. She was later awarded permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits which were reduced by the amount her full salary payments were in excess of TTD benefits pursuant to 85A O.S. 89. Braitsch argued 85A O.S. 89 denied her due process of the law and was an unconstitutional special law. The Administrative Law Judge denied the constitutional challenges and the Workers' Compensation Commission en banc affirmed the ALJ's decision. This appeal concerns only the asserted constitutional challenges. "Every presumption is to be indulged in favor of the constitutionality of a statute," and the Oklahoma Supreme Court found Braitsch failed to "bear the heavy burden of establishing 85A O.S. 89 is unconstitutional." The Court found the provisions of 85A O.S. 89 neither violated Braitsch's right to due process of law nor was the statute a special law. The Order Affirming Decision of Administrative Law Judge was affirmed. View "Braitsch v. City of Tulsa" on Justia Law

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Russell Foutch and Randall Barrios died while incarcerated in Oklahoma jails: Barrios by his own hand; Foutch from complications related to pneumonia. Their estates sued the respective jails, one sheriff, and various employees and healthcare contractors of those jails. Their claims included: (1) federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the federal constitution; (2) negligence and wrongful death claims; (3) negligent conduct, training, hiring, and supervision claims; and (4) tort claims alleging violations of rights guaranteed by Sections 7 and 9 of Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution. Two federal courts certified questions of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court: (1) the Governmental Tort Claims Act renders the State immune from any tort suit arising out of the "[p]rovision, equipping, operation or maintenance of any prison, jail or correctional facility." Do Sections 7 and 9 of Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution nonetheless allow an inmate to bring a tort claim for denial of medical care? and (2) if so, is the private cause of action to be recognized retrospectively? Responding required the Court to determine whether to extend the holding in Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority (305 P.3d 994) to include tort claims brought by inmates alleging violations of their rights to due process and to be free from cruel or unusual punishments. The Oklahoma Legislature responded to Bosh by amending the Governmental Tort Claims Act ("GTCA"), 51 O.S. 151 et seq., to clarify that the State's immunity from suit extended even to so-called "constitutional" torts. The Court, therefore, answered the first certified question "no," and did not reach the second question. View "Barrios v. Haskell County Public Facilities Authority" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Trina Engles received temporary total disability benefits in 2006, for a December 2, 2005 injury. She had fallen backwards in a chair at work, which caused the injury. On January 15, 2010, Engles received permanent partial disability benefits for the neck injury. She had previously suffered a non-work-related injury in 1998. That injury occurred from an electrocution and fall at her home. She had multiple back and neck surgeries as a result. Ultimately she was awarded benefits from the Multiple Injury Trust Fund based on the most recent Court of Civil Appeals decision. MITF filed a timely petition for certiorari to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, arguing the Court had never before addressed the conclusion and holding of the Court of Civil Appeals. It argued the holding that a PTD benefit claimant against MITF may reopen an underlying case during the pendency of a claim against MITF, settle the reopened claim, and then use the settlement to later obtain a MITF award after another division of the Court of Civil Appeals ruled there was no jurisdiction for claimant's claim of benefits against MITF. MITF also argued the court did not follow the Supreme Court's jurisprudence, arguing it ignored the law-of-the-case doctrine. MITF claims the court did not correctly apply the statute, ignoring the Court's case law that a change of condition for the worse was not a subsequent injury under section 172. MITF contended that Engles was not eligible for benefits as she only has one previous adjudicated injury and her change of condition for the worse just reopened the original injury. Finally, MITF argued the court determined the competence of evidence sua sponte, contradicting Oklahoma case law. The Supreme Court agreed that Engles had one adjudicated injury, and suffered no subsequent injury after her 2005 injury; she could not be a physically impaired person and the appellate court lacked jurisdiction against MITF. "Reopening a lone injury and characterizing the resulting compromise settlement as a second adjudicated injury cannot establish jurisdiction over MITF." The Court vacated the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Engles v. Multiple Injury Trust Fund" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a 2015 motor vehicle accident between Ronald Fox and James Mize in Norman, Oklahoma. Mize was traveling northbound on Sunnylane Road in a tractor-trailer owned by his employer, Van Eaton Ready Mix, Inc., when he made a left turn onto Van Eaton's property. According to the traffic collision report, Mize made an improper turn in front of oncoming traffic. Fox, who was travelling southbound on Sunnylane Road on a motorcycle, collided with Mize's tractor-trailer and was declared dead at the scene from a head injury. The report provided that Fox made no improper driving action and that neither driver appeared to be speeding at the time of the collision. Mize held a Class "A" commercial driver's license subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), and Van Eaton stipulated that Mize was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the collision. Mize was taken from the scene to Norman Regional for a blood test, which showed he was under the influence of a prescription narcotic banned by the FMCSR at the time of the accident. Plaintiff, the personal representative of Fox's estate, brought suit against Mize for negligence and negligence per se and sued Van Eaton for negligence and negligence per se under the theory of respondeat superior. Plaintiff also asserted direct negligence claims against Van Eaton for negligent hiring, training, and retention, and negligent entrustment. Van Eaton stipulated that Mize was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision and sought dismissal of the Plaintiff's direct negligence claims, arguing that negligent hiring and negligent entrustment were unnecessary, superfluous, and contrary to public policy because Van Eaton had already admitted to being Mize's employer for purposes of vicarious liability. The district court dismissed the negligent hiring claim but allowed the negligent entrustment claim to proceed. Upon consideration, the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded an employer's liability for negligently entrusting a vehicle to an unfit employee was a separate and distinct theory of liability from that of an employer's liability under the respondeat superior doctrine. An employer's stipulation that an accident occurred during the course and scope of employment does not, as a matter of law, bar a negligent entrustment claim. View "Fox v. Mize" on Justia Law

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The petitioner-employer sought review of the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims which upheld a trial court's determination that respondent-employee Jennifer Hodge suffered a change of condition for the worse to her left leg/knee when she was injured in a medical facility where she was receiving medical treatment to a previously adjudicated body part. The employer urged there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court's decision because: (1) any injury arose from an intervening negligent act; and (2) there was no medical evidence to support a worsening of condition to employee's left leg/knee. The three-judge panel disagreed with Employer and affirmed the trial court. Employer then filed a Petition for Review and the Court of Civil Appeals vacated the decision of the three-judge panel. Hodge filed a Petition for Certiorari to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Granting review, the Supreme Court found competent evidence to support the decisions from the trial court and the three-judge panel. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals and affirmed the Workers' Compensation Court. View "City of Tulsa v. Hodge" on Justia Law

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The question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case centered on whether evidence in the underlying workers compensation proceeding should have been excluded by the administrative law judge, as well as the constitutionality of several provisions of the Administrative Workers Compensation Act (AWCA) that required mandatory use of the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association's Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (AMA Guides, Sixth Edition) to evaluate permanent partial disability (PPD). Petitioner Robert Hill was a paramedic working for Respondent American Medical Response (Employer), when he injured his right shoulder while lifting a person of large body habitus. Hill underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. After post-operative physical therapy, Hill was released at maximum medical improvement and given permanent restrictions. Employer admitted the injury and benefits were provided pursuant to the provisions of the AWCA. Employer was apparently unable to accommodate Hill's permanent restrictions, and so Hill was no longer employed with American Medical Response. Per Hill's testimony, he found work with a new employer and made approximately 25% less per year. Hill submitted a report by Dr. Stephen Wilson, who opined that Hill sustained 8% whole person impairment pursuant to the AMA Guides, Sixth Edition, and 31.8% impairment pursuant to the AMA Guides, Fifth Edition. Dr. Wilson did not express an opinion as to which rating more accurately described Hill's PPD. Employer's evaluating physician, Dr. William Gillock, asserted in his own report that Hill sustained 4.2% whole person impairment pursuant to the AMA guides, Sixth Edition. The Supreme Court determined the administrative law judge did not err by admitting the challenged evidence. Furthermore, the Court determined the mandatory use of the AMA Guides, Sixth Edition, for assessing impairment for non-scheduled members did not violate the Constitution. View "Hill v. American Medical Response" on Justia Law

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Daniel Phillips was convicted of multiple counts of indecent or lewd acts with children under the age of sixteen. The mother of the children sued Phillips, alleging various torts arising out of his crimes. The mother moved for partial summary judgment in the case, arguing that Phillips's conviction for the crimes established his liability for the torts. In response, Phillips argued that because his conviction was the product of an Alford plea--where a defendant admitted there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction, but nonetheless insisted that he did not commit the crimes--his conviction could not preclude him from disputing liability in the civil case. The district court agreed with the mother, granting partial summary adjudication in her favor on the issue of liability. Phillips asked the district court to certify that decision for immediate review. The district court did so, and Phillips timely petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court for certiorari. The Court granted the petition and, finding no reversible error in the district court's decision, affirmed. View "Martin v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The estate of a driver killed in a vehicle/train collision sued a railroad company in a wrongful death action. The District Court entered judgment on the jury verdict finding the driver and railroad negligent and apportioned fault. The railroad, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad Company (BNSF) appealed, and also appealed the post-trial order overruling its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, motion for a new trial. In substance, BNSF contended that federal law preempted the driver's claims, challenged the fairness of the trial proceedings and challenged the amount of damages awarded. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of the driver's estate. View "Nye v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law