Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
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Plaintiff, a child, by and through his parents, brought a Governmental Tort Claims Act action alleging he was injured through the negligence of a school bus driver. The child was taken to a hospital emergency room, given several diagnostic tests, and treated with 4 staples for one laceration and Dermabond for another. When he filed his District Court action more than one year later he alleged he had medical-related expenses in the amount of $6,209.30, and potential unknown medical expenses as a result of being hit by the bus. Further, he alleged pain and suffering and sought a sum in excess of $10,000. The three basic questions raised on application for certiorari review by the Oklahoma Supreme Court were: (1) whether an Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims notice sent by certified mail to a superintendent of a public school statutorily sufficient; (2) whether an insurance adjuster's request for more information tolled the GTCA time limits if the request also stated an intent for tolling to not occur; and (3) whether a unilateral request by plaintiff for settlement negotiations tolled the GTCA time limits. The Supreme Court held plaintiff's Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA) notice of claim sent to the correct school superintendent by certified mail satisfied the requirement in 51 O.S. 156(D) for filing the GTCA notice with the office of the clerk of the school's board of education, although the superintendent did not transmit the notice to the proper clerk for filing. Further, the Court held the insurance adjuster's request for additional information did not toll the 90-day time limit for approval, denial, or deemed denial of the GTCA claim when the request expressly stated it would not extend or waive the GTCA time limits. Finally, the Court held a plaintiff's letter unilaterally seeking settlement negotiations was not an agreement pursuant to 51 O.S. 157 to toll the GTCA time limits. View "I. T. K. v. Mounds Public Schools" on Justia Law

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The daughter of a deceased employee brought a wrongful death action against the her father’s employer for intentional tort, asserting that the employer was willful, wanton, and intentional in directing the decedent-employee to perform certain tasks that the decedent's employer knew was certain or substantially certain to result in the decedent-employee's death. She sought declaratory relief that the exclusive liability provision of the Workers' Compensation Act was unconstitutional. The district court declared the Act's exclusivity provision constitutional, ultimately determined the decedent-employer's liability was exclusively governed by the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Act, and dismissed the daughter's petition. The Court of Civil Appeals declared the statute unconstitutional as a special law in violation of Okla. Const. art. 5, sections 46, 59. The COCA reversed the district court's order of dismissal and remanded the matter for further proceedings. Based on its review of the undisputed facts, the Oklahoma Constitution, and applicable laws, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the portion of section 12 that included intentional torts was “not within the walls of the workers' compensation scheme or jurisdiction.” This analysis applied equally to subsequent iterations found in Okla. Stat. tit. 85A, section 5(B)(2)(2013),4 209(B),5 and Okla. Stat. tit. 85, section 302(B)(2011) (now repealed). Accordingly, the district court's order was reversed and the matter remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Wells v. Oklahoma Roofing & Sheet Metal" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Amanda Cole was injured in an automobile accident and sued defendant Samantha Josey. Plaintiff failed to serve process on the defendant within 180 days. The trial court dismissed the suit without prejudice. Plaintiff then refiled her petition within one year of the date of the order dismissing her case. The trial court dismissed her suit for failure to refile within one year of the 181st day following the filing of her original petition. Plaintiff appealed; the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed the trial court's decision. The sole issue on appeal was whether the refiling of a petition after the first petition was dismissed on the grounds that service was not made within 180 days had to take place within one year of the finality of the order dismissing the case or within one year from the 181st day of filing the petition. The Supreme Court held the day after the filing of an appealable order dismissing the case was the date from which the 12 O.S. 2011, section 100 "savings statute" one year refiling period began, if the order was not appealed. Where the dismissal order is appealed the one year period commences on the day after the appeal is final. This issue had not been specifically addressed by the Supreme Court under these facts and under the version of the statute applicable to this action. View "Cole v. Josey" on Justia Law

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Appellant Thomas Southon was employed by Oklahoma Tire Recyclers, LLC ("Employer"). In 2016, Southon sustained an injury while on the job and filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. Employer fired Southon less than a month after he suffered the injury. Southon filed an action alleging Employer terminated him as retaliation for seeking workers' compensation benefits. Southon's petition further requested a declaratory ruling that 85A O.S.Supp. 2013 section 7 was unconstitutional. Employer moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that under section 7 Southon's exclusive, and constitutionally sufficient, remedy was before the Workers' Compensation Commission and not the district court. The district court found 85A O.S.Supp. 2013 section 7 was constitutional, and agreed that the Workers' Compensation Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over Southon's claim and sustained Employer's motion to dismiss. Southon appealed, and this matter was retained and made a companion case to another cause concerning the same statutory provision. The issues presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review were: (1) whether 85A O.S.Supp. 2013 section 7 unconstitutionally restricted a plaintiff's right to jury trial; (2) whether section 7 denied Southon his right to due process; (3) whether section 7 wrongfully classifies workers' compensation claimants separately from other wrongful termination victims; and (4) whether a Burk tort was available to such plaintiffs in the district court. The Supreme Court concluded Southon's four assignments of error were without merit and affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Southon v. Oklahoma Tire Recyclers, LLC" on Justia Law

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At issue was the constitutionality of an Oklahoma legislative enactment, 23 O.S. 2011 section 61.2, which that statutorily limited a plaintiff's recovery of noneconomic damages to $350,000 unless special findings were made. Plaintiffs brought a personal-injury action, and a jury returned a verdict in their favor. The trial court reduced the amount of the actual noneconomic damages awarded by the jury to comply with the statutory cap on damages contained in 23 O.S. 2011 section 61.2, and then entered judgment on the verdict as modified. Plaintiffs appealed, challenging the statutory cap on damages, as well as other matters. Defendant filed a counter-appeal, also attacking the judgment on various grounds. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held 23 O.S. 2011 section 61.2(B)--(F) was an impermissible special law that violated Article 5, Section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution because it singled out for different treatment less than the entire class of similarly situated persons who may sue to recover for bodily injury. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held none of the defendant's assignments of error in its counter-appeal were sufficient to reverse the judgment. The Court reversed the trial court's judgment to the extent it modified--and reduced--the jury's verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. View "Beason v. I.E. Miller Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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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