Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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While driving a car insured by Arizona Automobile Insurance Company, Marlena Whicker rear-ended a taxi and injured its passenger, Georgiana Chavez. Chavez sued Whicker in Colorado state court and won a default judgment when neither Whicker nor Arizona entered a defense. Whicker, unable to satisfy the judgment from the lawsuit, assigned her rights against Arizona to Chavez, who then filed this diversity suit against Arizona in federal court for failure to defend Whicker in the underlying state court action. Her theory was that Arizona had a duty to defend Whicker under Colorado law because Arizona knew that she was a driver covered under its policy. The district court disagreed with Chavez and granted Arizona’s motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit determined that under Colorado law, Arizona was only required to defend Whicker if Chavez’s complaint plausibly alleged Whicker was insured under the Arizona policy. It therefore reached the same conclusion as the district court and, affirmed its dismissal of Chavez’s case. View "Chavez v. Arizona Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Elizabeth Frost died in an accidental house fire. At the time, ADT provided security monitoring services to the premises. During the fire, ADT received several alerts through its monitoring system. Although ADT attempted to call Frost and the back-up number listed on her account, it did not get through. After several such attempts, ADT cleared the alerts without contacting emergency services. The administrator of Frost’s estate and her minor heir, M.F., sued ADT. The central theme of the complaint was that ADT’s failure to notify emergency services contradicted representations on its website that it would do so, and that failure wrongfully caused or contributed to Frost’s death. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding the one-year suit limitation provision in the contract between ADT and Frost barred the claims and that Claimants failed to state a claim with respect to certain counts. Because the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found the contract between Frost and ADT provided an enforceable suit-limitation provision that barred the claims at issue, it affirmed dismissal. View "Frost v. ADT" on Justia Law

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Katherine Morgan, as wrongful death representative of her husband, David Morgan, brought direct negligence liability claims against Baker Hughes Incorporated (“Baker Hughes”) for the acts of its subsidiary, Baker Petrolite Incorporated (“Baker Petrolite”). In 2012, David Morgan was crushed to death by a heavy chemical tote while operating a forklift at his place of employment, a warehouse in Casper, Wyoming. There have been two trials in this case. At the close of Morgan’s evidence in the first trial, Baker Hughes moved for judgment as a matter of law. The district court granted Baker Hughes’ motion. We reversed on appeal, holding that Morgan had presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Baker Hughes was liable for David Morgan’s death In so doing, we interpreted Wyoming law on the liability of parent corporations for the acts of their subsidiaries. After the second trial, Morgan moved for judgment as a matter of law. The district court denied the motion, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Baker Hughes. However, before submitting the case to the jury, the court rejected Morgan’s proposed jury instructions and overruled her objections to the court’s instructions. Morgan timely appealed these decisions and moved to certify the controlling question to the Wyoming Supreme Court. The Tenth Circuit concluded that Wyoming law on this issue was consistent with the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 414 and its commentary. Accordingly, the Court held that the district court correctly instructed the jury with respect to the relevant legal standard and did not err in making various decisions Morgan challenges on appeal. View "Morgan v. Baker Hughes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Luzetta Murphy-Sims appealed after a jury ruled in favor of Defendant-Appellee Owners Insurance Company (Owners) on her complaint against Owners' insured stemming from a car accident. The insured was at fault; Murphy-Sims maintained that she suffered extensive injuries, and consequently incurred significant medical costs, as a result of the accident. In February 2014, she sent Owners a letter demanding settlement claiming $41,000 in medical expenses. Owners timely replied with a request for more information. When Murphy-Sims failed to reply, Owners sent two additional follow-up requests. Finally, in June 2014, Murphy-Sims provided Owners with some of the requested information. It did not offer a settlement payment in response. In July 2014, Murphy-Sims sued the insured. The parties agreed roughly three weeks later to enter into a Nunn agreement, which bound the matter over to binding arbitration. The arbitrator awarded Murphy-Sims approximately $1.3 million and judgment was entered against the insured. Pursuant to the agreement, Murphy-Sims did not execute on the judgment. In March 2016, Murphy-Sims, standing in the insured's shoes as permitted under the Nunn agreement, filed the underlying lawsuit against Owners in state district court, claiming Owners breached its contract with Switzer and had done so in bad faith. Owners removed the suit to federal court and the case proceeded to trial. The jury ultimately found that Owners did not breach its contract with the insured, thereby declining to award $1.3 million in damages to Murphy-Sims. The jury did not reach the bad faith claim having been instructed that it need not be reached in the absence of a breach of contract. After review of Murphy-Sims arguments on appeal, the Tenth Circuit determined the district curt committed no reversible error, and affirmed its judgment. View "Murphy-Sims v. Owners Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Antonio Caballero filed the underlying lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah seeking a “judgment on a judgment” he had obtained from a Florida state court. The complaint asserted he expected to proceed against assets located in Utah pursuant to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (“TRIA”). Caballero served defendants with process in the federal suit; none answered or otherwise participated i the Utah action. The federal district court registered the Florida state-court judgment under 28 U.S.C. 1963, but denied all other relief because Caballero did not establish personal jurisdiction over the defendants. As a result, Caballero could not utilize federal district court collection procedures. Caballero moved to alter or amend the judgment, which the district court denied. He appealed both orders. The Tenth Circuit determined section 1963 applied only to registration of federal-court judgments in federal courts, not to state-court judgments. Consequently, the Court reversed the district court’s judgment registering the Florida state-court judgment in Utah federal court. The Court determined Caballero’s civil cover sheet filed with the district court indicated the basis of jurisdiction was federal question; Caballero might have been able to establish federal subject-matter jurisdiction under the TRIA if permitted to amend his complaint. The Tenth Circuit reversed to allow Caballero to amend his complaint. View "Caballero v. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaria" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Brian Shotts was injured in a car accident caused by Dana Pollard. Shotts was insured under a policy issued by GEICO General Insurance Company (“GEICO”), which included underinsured motorist (“UM”) coverage. Pollard had automobile insurance through Farmers Insurance (“Farmers”). Shotts filed a claim with Farmers, which offered Pollard’s policy limits as settlement. Before accepting the offer, Shotts notified GEICO of the accident. GEICO opened a claim, assigned an adjuster, and began an investigation. GEICO also waived its subrogation rights, allowing Shotts to accept the offer from Farmers. GEICO’s investigation determined that Shotts’s injuries exceeded Pollard’s policy limits by $3,210.87. GEICO offered Shotts a settlement of that amount, but Shotts declined the offer as “unreasonably low.” Shotts demanded GEICO promptly “pay the first dollar of his claim, up to the value of [the] claim or the total available UM limits” of $25,000. He also asked GEICO to reevaluate the offer. In response, GEICO requested additional information about Shotts’s injuries. It then proposed a peer review to determine whether his injuries exceeded the $3,210.87 offer. Shotts sued for bad faith breach of contract, alleging that GEICO acted in bad faith by: (1) conducting “a biased and unfair investigation and evaluation of [his] claim”; and (2) failing to pay the full value of his claim. He also requested punitive damages. The district court granted summary judgment for GEICO on both bad faith claims and denied punitive damages. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Shotts v. GEICO" on Justia Law

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James Lyle worked as a coal miner for roughly 28 years. After retiring, he sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. An administrative law judge concluded that Lyle was entitled to benefits, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board affirmed. Energy West Mining Company, Lyle's former employer, filed a petition for review of the Board’s decision, arguing primarily the administrative law judge lacked authority to award benefits, and the Review Board couldn’t have remedied the problem by appointing an administrative law judge. The Tenth Circuit rejected most of Energy West’s arguments but agreed with its challenge to the administrative law judge’s analysis of an opinion by Dr. Joseph Tomashefski, Jr. Because Energy West did not invoke the Appointments Clause in proceedings before the Benefits Review Board, the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider the validity of the administrative law judge’s appointment. However, in its analysis, the administrative law judge discounted Dr. Tomashefski’s medical opinion for a reason unsupported by the record. The Court thus vacated the award of benefits and remanded to the Board for reconsideration of Dr. Tomashefski’s opinion. View "Energy West Mining Company v. Lyle" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Brenda Patterson and her husband, Plaintiff Timothy Welker, appealed a district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant PowderMonarch, LLC, on their claims of negligence and loss of consortium based on injuries Ms. Patterson allegedly sustained at Defendant’s ski resort. Because the district court correctly held that these claims are barred by an exculpatory agreement included on Ms. Patterson’s ski lift ticket, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Patterson v. PowderMonarch" on Justia Law

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Big Horn Coal Company petitioned the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for review of a Department of Labor Benefits Review Board (“Board”) decision awarding benefits to Edgar Sadler, a then-living miner, under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA or “the Act”). The BLBA’s statute of limitations required miners to file claims for benefits within three years of receiving a medical determination of total disability due to pneumoconiosis. In interpreting this statute of limitations, the Secretary of the Department of Labor issued 20 C.F.R. 725.308(c) (2010), which provided that the time limits in section 932(f) “are mandatory and may not be waived or tolled except upon a showing of extraordinary circumstances.” The issue this appeal presented turned on the validity of the Secretary’s regulation in section 725.308(c) and the interpretation and application of the “extraordinary circumstances” test contained therein. Sadler received a total disability diagnosis in 2005, but he did not file the claim at issue here until 2010. Despite that delay, an administrative law judge (ALJ) awarded benefits to Sadler upon finding that “extraordinary circumstances” existed to warrant tolling the statute of limitations. Big Horn Coal argued there were no "extraordinary circumstances" sufficient here to justify tolling the statute of limitations. The Tenth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction because Big Horn Coal failed to exhaust that issue before the Board. View "Big Horn Coal Company v. Sadler" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Sports Illustrated magazine (“SI”) published a five-article series on the Oklahoma State University (“OSU”) football program. The series explored “illicit payments” and other “extreme measures” OSU used to recruit and retain top players. The series briefly profiled John Talley, a booster who “had been close to the football program since at least 2002” and who allegedly “grossly overpaid [OSU players] for jobs they did or compensated them for jobs they didn’t do.” Talley sued Time, Inc., which publishes SI, and SI reporters Thayer Evans and George Dohrmann (collectively, “the Defendants”) in state court, claiming that the article placed him in a false light and invaded his privacy. The case was removed to the federal district court, and after discovery, defendants were granted summary judgment. Finding that Talley did not demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendants acted with actual malice (an element of Oklahoma's false light tort), the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal on summary judgment grounds. View "Talley v. Time, Inc." on Justia Law