Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Traugott v ARCTEC Alaska
Joseph Traugott suffered from with diabetes and a related foot condition, and developed an infection in his foot while working at a remote site. He required extensive medical treatment for his foot and did not work since developing the infection. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board decided the worker’s disability and need for medical treatment were compensable based on an expert opinion that work was the sole cause of the condition’s acceleration even if work was not the most significant cause of the worker’s overall condition. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission reversed, because in its' view, the Board had asked the expert misleading questions. The Commission then concluded, based on a different opinion by the same expert, that the worker had not provided sufficient evidence to support his claim. Traugott appealed, raising issues about the interpretation of the new causation standard adopted in the 2005 amendments to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) and its application to his case. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the Commission’s decision and remanded for reinstatement of the Board’s award. View "Traugott v ARCTEC Alaska" on Justia Law
Weaver v. ASRC Federal Holding Co.
Gregory Weaver worked at remote sites for ARCTEC Alaska1 off and on for several years as a relief station mechanic. His job involved heavy labor, and he filed several reports of injury during the times he worked for ARCTEC. He reported in December 2010 that he had “pulled something in the lower spinal area” while adjusting tire chains on a dump truck. He filed another injury report related to his back in early 2012, after he experienced back pain while installing garage door panels. Weaver passed “fit for duty” physical examinations after both of these injuries. In 2013, however, he woke up one morning with back pain that made it hard for him to walk. He said his back pain “had been building up for several months,” but he could not identify a specific task related to the onset of pain. He said “the majority of the heavy lifting” he did that summer had been at Indian Mountain, but he described work at Barter Island as including significant shoveling and pushing wheelbarrows of rocks over difficult surfaces. He thought the camp bed provided inadequate back support. He asked to be flown out because of his back pain and has not worked since. Weaver began receiving About six months later his employer controverted all benefits based on a medical opinion that the work caused only workers’ compensation benefits after experiencing severe low back pain at a remote job site. About six months later his employer controverted all benefits based on a medical opinion that the work caused only a temporary aggravation of a preexisting condition. Weaver the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board to join a prior back injury claim against the same employer. Following a lengthy and complex administrative process, the Board denied the worker’s claim for additional benefits, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Board's and Commission's decisions. View "Weaver v. ASRC Federal Holding Co." on Justia Law
M.M. v. Alaska Dept. of Admin.
The plaintiff in this case, M.M, was incapacitated, and in July 2014, a superior court appointed the Alaska Office of Public Advocacy (OPA) as guardian. Plaintiff raised several issues in a complaint filed on his behalf by a next friend - issues regarding the caseloads of OPA workers, the lack of standards of practice for OPA workers, and OPA not visiting its wards quarterly as required by statute. Plaintiff requested class certification, a declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief. The superior court granted summary judgment against plaintiff on all issues except one, and the parties proceeded with discovery and briefing on the issue whether OPA had met its statutory requirement to visit plaintiff on a quarterly basis. After the parties stipulated to a set of facts, the superior court granted OPA’s motion for summary judgment on the remaining issue. OPA moved for attorney’s fees, which the court granted but reduced, and the court entered final judgment in favor of OPA. Plaintiff appealed, arguing the superior court improperly interpreted the statutes addressing to whom OPA may delegate duties, erred by awarding attorney’s fees, and erred by holding the plaintiff’s next friend personally liable for fees. Because the superior court properly interpreted the statutes at issue, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed its ruling that OPA could contract with service providers to help satisfy its statutory visitation duty. As to the attorney’s fees award, the Supreme Court concluded it was error to hold plaintiff’s next friend personally liable for fees. The matter was remanded for the superior court to reconsider whether to impose fees on plaintiff, given that the next friend was no longer personally liable. View "M.M. v. Alaska Dept. of Admin." on Justia Law
Lovely, et al. v Baker Hughes, Inc., et al.
A construction contractor’s employees were injured on the job and received workers’ compensation benefits from their employer. The workers later brought a negligence suit against three other corporations: the one that had entered into the construction contract with their employer, that corporation’s parent corporation, and an affiliated corporation that operated the facility under construction. The three corporations moved for summary judgment, arguing that all three were “project owners” potentially liable for the payment of workers’ compensation benefits and therefore were protected from liability under the exclusive liability provision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act. The superior court granted the motion, rejecting the workers’ argument that status as a “project owner” was limited to a corporation that had a contractual relationship with their employer. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded a project owner, for purposes of the Act, "must be someone who actually contracts with a person to perform specific work and enjoys the beneficial use of that work." Furthermore, the Court found the workers raised issues of material fact about which of the three corporate defendants satisfied this definition. Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lovely, et al. v Baker Hughes, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
McCormick v. Chippewa, Inc.
In August 2007 Brent McCormick was injured while working aboard FV CHIPPEWA, owned by Chippewa,Inc. McCormick filed a lawsuit against Chippewa and Louis Olsen, the vessel's captain in August 2010. McCormick initiated settlement negotiations with the employer's insurance company for "policy limits." Under the insurance policy there was a per-occurrence coverage limit. During negotiations, counsel for McCormick and the insurance company discussed the terms of the settlement over a phone call; the parties provided inconsistent accounts of which issues were addressed on the call. McCormick's counsel’s affidavit asserted he raised the issue of the number of occurrences and the parties agreed to leave it unresolved. Shortly after this phone call, the parties reached a purported settlement agreement. McCormick filed suit to enforce the purported settlement agreement for policy limits based on three occurrences. The insurance company filed for summary judgment, asserting that the agreement was for policy limits of a single occurrence. The superior court granted summary judgment for the insurance company, concluding that its interpretation of the purported settlement agreement was correct. On appeal, McCormick argued the superior court abused its discretion on evidentiary and discovery issues and erred by granting the insurer’s motion for summary judgment. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion. But the Court did find an issue of fact barring summary judgment due to the contradictory accounts of the phone call. A reasonable person could have discerned a genuine factual dispute on a material issue because this phone call could have either: (1) provided extrinsic evidence of the meaning of the settlement agreement, or (2) indicated there was no meeting of the minds on an essential term, and thus no enforceable agreement was formed. Therefore, summary judgment was inappropriate and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "McCormick v. Chippewa, Inc." on Justia Law
Haight,v. City & Borough of Juneau
A minor died in a motorized watercraft accident on a lake managed in part by a municipality: the State owned the lake but shared management authority with the City. State law at the relevant time allowed motorized watercraft on the lake as long as they did not degrade or damage the lake or its surroundings. A State land use plan also covered the lake, but the plan did not appear to regulate watercraft use. Like the State’s land use plan, the City’s comprehensive land use plan required only that the lake be managed to preserve the area’s natural features. The City did not have a separate land use plan for the lake. The minor’s mother sued, claiming that the municipality negligently failed to take measures to ensure safe operation of motorized watercraft on the lake. The municipality sought summary judgment based on discretionary function immunity, which the superior court granted. Because the superior court correctly applied the doctrine of discretionary function immunity, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed its decision. View "Haight,v. City & Borough of Juneau" on Justia Law
Tobar v. Remington Holdings LP
A hotel housekeeper injured her back while lifting a pile of linens. Her employer challenged her application for benefits based on an examining doctor’s opinion that she was medically stable and that the job injury was no longer the substantial cause of any disability or need for medical treatment. After a hearing, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board decided that the woman was medically stable as of the date of the doctor’s opinion and therefore not entitled to further disability payments or to benefits for permanent partial impairment. The Board also denied further medical care after the date of medical stability. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision, and the woman appealed. Because the Board’s selected date of medical stability was not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the Alaska Supreme Court vacated the Commission’s decision and remanded the case to the Commission with instructions to remand the case to the Board for further proceedings. View "Tobar v. Remington Holdings LP" on Justia Law
Diamond III v. Platinum Jaxx, Inc.
John Diamond, III was assaulted and sustained severe injuries while a patron at Platinum Jaxx, a restaurant and bar. He filed suit against Platinum Jaxx, Inc., its landlord, and his assailant, Noel Bungay. A default was entered against Bungay, and the landlord was later granted summary judgment on the claims against it. Diamond proceeded to trial on his remaining claims against Platinum Jaxx. After an eight-day trial, the jury returned a special verdict finding Platinum Jaxx criminally negligent. The jury awarded Diamond $1.85 million in damages and apportioned fault between Platinum Jaxx and Bungay. Platinum Jaxx was found to be 20% at fault for the injuries Diamond received, and Bungay was found 80% at fault. Diamond appealed the superior court’s pre-trial order that precluded him from proceeding on a piercing the corporate veil theory, asking the Alaska Supreme Court to reverse the order and remand to allow the superior court to make findings of fact and conclusions of law on the veil piercing issue. He also challenged other pre-trial orders excluding evidence, and determination of post-judgment cost award allocation. Because Diamond did not plead the veil piercing issue, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s order. The superior court also did not abuse its discretion by excluding the challenged evidence and by allocating costs according to the percentage of fault of each defendant. View "Diamond III v. Platinum Jaxx, Inc." on Justia Law
Weston v AKHappytime, LLC, d/b/a Alex Hotel & Suites
Petitioner Lorna Weston was seriously injured when she slipped and fell on ice in a hotel parking lot. Medicare covered her medical expenses, settling the providers’ bills by paying less than one-fifth of the amounts billed. When she later sued the hotel for negligence, the hotel sought to bar her from introducing her original medical bills as evidence of her damages, arguing that only the amount Medicare actually paid was relevant and admissible. The superior court agreed and excluded the evidence. The Alaska Supreme Court granted Weston's petition for review the following questions: (1) whether evidence of medical expenses was properly limited to the amounts actually paid, or whether the amounts billed by the providers - even if later discounted - were relevant evidence of damages; and (2) whether the difference between the amounts billed by the providers and the amounts actually paid was a benefit from a collateral source, subject to the collateral source rule. The Supreme Court concluded that the amounts billed by the providers were relevant evidence of the medical services’ reasonable value. Furthermore, the Court concluded the difference between the amounts billed and the amounts paid was a benefit to the injured party that was subject to the collateral source rule; as such, evidence of the amounts paid was excluded from the jury’s consideration but was subject to post-trial proceedings under AS 09.17.070 for possible reduction of the damages award. View "Weston v AKHappytime, LLC, d/b/a Alex Hotel & Suites" on Justia Law
Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Collens
In May 2009 Jesse Collens, then 21 years old, was permanently injured in a bicycle accident that left him a C-1 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down, and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. In December 2009 he contracted with Maxim Healthcare Services, a national healthcare corporation with a home healthcare division, to provide his nursing care. In late 2011 issues arose between Collens and Maxim over the company’s management of his care. These issues escalated, and in early March 2012, Alaina Adkins, Maxim’s Alaska office manager, met with Collens to discuss his main concerns with Maxim’s services. The following business day, Adkins emailed various members of Maxim’s legal and administrative staff about one of the issues Collens had raised. Internal concerns surfaced about the legal compliance of the staff working with Collens. In an email responding to the report, Maxim’s area vice president wrote, “We are in dangerous territory right now with the liability of this case and we are going to have to seriously consider discharge.” Collens’s care plan was subject to routine recertification every 60 days; Maxim’s Alaska Director of Clinical Services visited Collens’s house to complete the review necessary for this recertification, noting “discharge is not warranted.” Concurrent to the recertification, Adkins requested Maxim’s legal department provide her a draft discharge letter for Collens. The draft letter stated the discharge had been discussed with Collens’s physician and care coordinator and that they agreed with the discharge decision. But in fact neither approved the discharge. The draft letter also included a space for names of other entities that could provide the care needed by the patient. Adkins noted in an email to the legal department, “We already know that there are no providers in our area that provide this type of service.” The discharge letter she eventually delivered to Collens filled in the blank with four agency names. Adkins delivered and read aloud the discharge letter at Collens’s home on March 30. Collens sued Maxim and Adkins for breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, unfair and deceptive acts and practices under Alaska’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The superior court ruled for Collens on all his claims and entered a $20,379,727.96 judgment against Adkins and Maxim, which included attorney’s fees. Maxim and Adkins appealed, arguing that: (1) they were not liable under the UTPA; (2) the superior court erred in precluding their expert witnesses from testifying at trial; (3) the court’s damages award was excessive; and (4) the court’s attorney’s fee award was unreasonable. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the superior court’s attorney’s fee award was unreasonable, but on all other issues it affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc. v. Collens" on Justia Law