Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Lee v. Bueno
The primary question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case was the constitutionality of 12 O.S. 2011 section 3009.1, limiting the admissibility of evidence of medical costs in personal injury actions. In 2014, plaintiff-petitioner Jhonhenri Lee was involved in a motor vehicle collision with defendant-respondent Diana Catalina Bueno. Lee was driving a vehicle that was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by Bueno. The collision pushed Lee's vehicle into the vehicle in front of him. After the collision, Lee sought medical treatment for injuries he sustained. At the time of the collision, Lee was insured under a policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield. Lee filed suit against Bueno alleging he sustained injuries for which he incurred property damage, medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and was prevented from transacting business, as a result of Bueno's actions and non-actions. Lee claimed damages in excess of $25,000. Prior to the commencement of discovery, Lee filed a Motion for Declaratory Relief Regarding the Constitutionality of 12 O.S. 2011 sec. 3009.1, asserting he incurred approximately $10,154 in medical expenses for treatment of injuries caused by Bueno's alleged negligence, and $8,112.81 in expenses submitted to his insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, who paid $2,845.11. Lee argued in his motion that 12 O.S. 2011 section 3009.1 was: (1) unconstitutional as a special law in violation of Okla. Const. art. 5, section 46; (2) unconstitutional because it violated his right to due process and a trial by jury; and (3) because it was unconstitutional, the collateral source rule should apply. The Supreme Court determined plaintiff did not meet the burden required to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of the statute, and the statute controlled over the collateral source rule to the extent the two might conflict. View "Lee v. Bueno" on Justia Law
Vasquez v. Dillard’s Inc.
Jonnie Vasquez, a Dillard's store employee, injured her neck and shoulder as she lifted shoe boxes while working. She filed claims for benefits under Dillard's Opt-Out plan, which were ultimately denied. The employer sought removal to federal court on grounds that the federal court had exclusive jurisdiction under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The United States District Court for the Western District disagreed and remanded the case to the Workers' Compensation Commission. The Commission found that the Opt Out Act: (1) constituted an unconstitutional special law; (2) denied equal protection to Oklahoma's injured workers; and (3) denied injured workers the constitutionally protected right of access to courts. Dillard's appealed. At issue was a challenge to the constitutionality of the Opt Out Act. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that the core provision of the Opt Out Act, created impermissible, unequal, disparate treatment of a select group of injured workers. Therefore, the Court held that the Oklahoma Employee Benefit Injury Act was an unconstitutional special law under the Oklahoma Constitution, art. 2, section 59.3. View "Vasquez v. Dillard's Inc." on Justia Law
Leritz v. Farmers Insurance Company, Inc.
Appellant-plaintiff Robert Leritz was a Kansas resident whose motorcycle and two other vehicles were garaged in Kansas under an insurance policy issued by Appellee, Farmers Insurance Company (Farmers) in Kansas. Plaintiff was injured in a motorcycle accident in Oklahoma when Defendant Larry Yates made a left hand turn and collided with Plaintiff causing serious bodily injuries. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that he had incurred medical expenses and suffered damages exceeding Yates's liability coverage. There was a question as to whether he could stack his uninsured motorist (UM) coverage based on his ownership of policies on each of his three vehicles. Oklahoma allowed the practice, until the Oklahoma Legislature amended the UM provision in 2014. Kansas did not allow stacking. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurer and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, applying the insurer's proposed solution to a perceived conflict of laws issue. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found no conflict of laws issue on these facts because the policy specified which law would apply to an issue of stacking of policies. Giving the policy provisions effect made a choice of law analysis unnecessary; the Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals, reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Leritz v. Farmers Insurance Company, Inc." on Justia Law
Holliman v. Twister Drilling Co.
A. Todd Holliman worked as a Floor Hand on a four man crew for Twister Drilling Company (Employer) on a drilling rig. Holliman lived in Holdenville and the rig was located approximately forty miles away in Maud. Three crews worked eight hours each to service the well 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Employer had no housing at the drill site, therefore; employees were required to find transportation to and from the drill site. In May 2013, Holliman and his supervisor were traveling home from the drill site after completing their shift when they were involved in a double fatality car crash. Holliman's supervisor was killed as was the driver of the other vehicle. The car belonged to Holliman, but his supervisor was driving. Holliman was a passenger and was sleeping at the time of the collision. Holliman filed a Form 3 alleging he sustained a single-event injury to his neck, back, left arm, and psychological overlay arising from injuries sustained from the motor vehicle accident. In its Form 10 Answer, first filed on October 2, 2013, Employer admitted that Holliman was an employee but denied the injuries were compensable or work-related because Holliman was not engaged in the performance of his job duties when he was injured. The trial tribunal found that Holliman's injuries were compensable and work related and awarded benefits. The tribunal found that under the circumstances the accident came within the special task exception to the general going and coming rule. Employer appealed. A three-judge panel reversed the order finding that Holliman was not injured while performing unusual duties and therefore was not entitled to benefits. Holliman appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) sustained the three-judge panel's denial of benefits finding that not only was Holliman not performing a special task, but there was no agreement between the crew members to share the travel pay. After review, the Supreme Court reversed, finding that Holliman's injury was a compensable injury under the travel exception to the going and coming rule. Therefore, Holliman was entitled to benefits. View "Holliman v. Twister Drilling Co." on Justia Law
Bober v. Oklahoma State Univ.
Petitioner Annette Legarde-Bober was employed by Employer Oklahoma State University at the Oklahoma City campus. She was a teacher at the child development lab (a childcare facility on the campus of OSU/OKC). The building where the lab is located is surrounded by a sidewalk and parking lot. The parking lot and sidewalk surrounding the building where Petitioner worked was owned and maintained by the University, and Petitioner testified she had previously seen OSU employees working in that parking lot. Petitioner was given a parking permit by her Employer, which gave her permission, and in fact, required her to park in this particular parking lot. On the morning of March 4, 2014, Petitioner arrived at the OSU/OKC campus around 8:55 a.m. because she was required by her Employer to begin her shift at 9:00 a.m. She testified that on that morning, the weather was cold and icy. Petitioner did not have the option to work remotely and was required to report to the child development lab on campus in order to perform her job duties. Although other businesses were closed that day due to the weather conditions, the OSU/OKC campus was open, and students and parents had already begun dropping their children off at the child development lab for childcare. Petitioner testified that after parking in the designated parking lot, she got out of her car, walked across the parking lot, and stepped up onto the curb to go into the building. The Employer's security camera video for the day in question shows that as Petitioner stepped up onto the curb, she slipped and fell on the ice. Petitioner sought treatment and compensation from OSU/OKC. Employer denied compensability, arguing Petitioner's injury did not arise in the course and scope of her employment under 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 2(13). The administrative law judge determined Petitioner's injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment, and the Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed. Petitioner appealed the decision of the Commission. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Petitioner was in the course and scope of her employment as the term is defined in 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 2(13) because her actions at the time of her injury were related to and in furtherance of the business of her Employer OSU/OKC, and she was on the premises of her Employer when she fell. View "Bober v. Oklahoma State Univ." on Justia Law
Tiger v. Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative
In 2008, a field engineer for Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative (Employer) met with a contract electrician for Integrated Service Company LLC (INSERV) in Catoosa, concerning the installation of additional underground electrical service. They discussed the location of the additional service to the building and decided to use an existing junction box which the engineer observed was surrounded by a yellow metal barricade. He would later note: "I normally recommend that our members [customers] install a protective post an [sic] each corner of a pad mounted device in high traffic areas such as the INSERV plant, to help protect from getting ran [sic] over by vehicles or other equipment. I would never suggest having a barrier of any kind in front of any opening or door on VVEC equipment." Employer's work crew, consisting of Employer was dispatched to install additional underground electrical service to INSERV. The four-man crew consisted of Jones, Jackson, Day, and Tiger. Jones and Jackson were journeymen electricians and Jones was the foreman. Day and Jason Tiger were apprentices. Tiger had been in the journeyman apprentice program for approximately nine months of a four-year program. At the time of his death, Tiger had been certified only in the climbing school portion of his journeyman training. Day had worked for Employer only one month. When the crew arrived at the work site, they found the junction box surrounded by a yellow painted steel barricade, erected presumably to protect it from being struck by vehicles or trailers. The record did not establish who erected or owned the barricade, but Employer owned the junction box and associated electrical equipment. Affixed to the junction box was a warning concerning hazardous voltage and underground power cables and a notice from Employer. Despite this, Tiger was electrocuted attempting to make a connection to the junction box. His widow sued Employer and INSERV pursuant to "Parret v. UNICCO Service Co.," (127 P.3d 572), asserting that Employer knew that injury or death was substantially certain to result from the task Tiger and his coworkers were directed to complete and the conditions in which they were required to work. The District Court denied the employer's motion for summary judgment but granted a second motion for summary judgment after additional discovery. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed after its review of the trial court record, finding material issues of fact remained in dispute. View "Tiger v. Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative" on Justia Law
Nelson v. Enid Medical Associates, Inc.
The issue this medical malpractice action presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on orders excluding testimony from plaintiffs' two expert witnesses and a summary judgment granted to defendants based upon the excluded testimony. Mrs. Nelson went to the Emergency Department of St. Mary's Regional Medical Center seeking medical assistance on the evening of July 21, 2006. The emergency room physician, Dr. Vaughan, ordered diagnostic tests, diagnosed an incarcerated hernia with possible bowel obstruction, and attempted to reduce the hernia. Dr. Vaughan telephoned Dr. Shepherd, Mrs. Nelson's internist and primary care provider. Dr. Shepherd instructed Dr. Vaughan to telephone Dr. Shreck, a surgeon. Dr. Shreck came to the hospital, reduced Mrs. Nelson's hernia, and she was admitted to the hospital. The medical record indicated Dr. Shreck reduced Mrs. Nelson's incarcerated hernia by manipulation. Mrs. Nelson became septic, went into septic shock during the morning of July 22nd, and she had a cardiac arrest while being prepared for surgery to address a perforated or dead bowel. She was resuscitated. After the surgery, Mrs. Nelson was given medicines to raise and control her blood pressure. Dr. Shepherd then switched Mrs. Nelson's medication to vasopressin. At approximately 11:00 p.m., Mrs. Nelson's blood pressure started to fall, her pulse became unstable and she died. A medical malpractice action was brought against Mrs. Nelson's medical providers for her last illness. Dr. Shepherd and Enid Medical Associates moved to exclude the proposed testimony of plaintiffs' two expert witnesses. They argued each witness had not provided legally proper testimony on the issue of the cause of Mrs. Nelson's demise because the testimony did not satisfy the requirements of "Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.," (509 U.S. 579 (1993)). The two defendants also sought summary judgment because the causation element of the malpractice claim action was missing from plaintiffs' claim. After review, the Supreme Court held that the opinions of the two witnesses on the issue of causation satisfied the requirements of 12 O.S. 2702, and reversed the summary judgment granted by the District Court. View "Nelson v. Enid Medical Associates, Inc." on Justia Law
Maree v. Neuwirth
Carla Maree was a nursing home resident at Willow Park Health Care Center, Lawton, Oklahoma. In early 2011, Carla Maree fell; two days later she died. Petitioner Mamie Maree, as personal representative of the estate of Carla Sue Maree, sued Defendant/Real Party in Interest's, PSG-Willow Park, L.L.C., d/b/a Willow Park Health Center (Nursing Home), for, among other things, negligence, for allegedly failing to timely respond to a "call light" and provide Carla Maree with appropriate assistance. Petitioner's counsel claimed that during participation in other litigation against the same Defendant, they became aware of "certain individuals and entities intertwined amongst and actually part of the named Defendant." Petitioner appealed when the trial court denied her motion to add these newly-discovered individuals and entities to her lawsuit. She made an application to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction and petitioned for a Writ of Prohibition prohibiting the Honorable Gerald Neuwirth, District Judge of Comanche County, Oklahoma (Respondent) from enforcing his January 21, 2016, Order denying Petitioner's Motion to Amend Petition to add additional defendants. In addition, Petitioner petitioned for a Writ of Mandamus ordering Respondent to allow Petitioner to amend her Petition and add additional defendants. After review, the Supreme Court found that the trial court decided the merits without affording Petitioner an opportunity for discovery to develop her claims. This was error and warranted the granting of a Writ of Prohibition to prevent the trial court from enforcing its January 21, 2016, order. The court dismissed Petitioner's application for a writ of mandamus. View "Maree v. Neuwirth" on Justia Law
Loyd v. Michelin North America, Inc.
Claimant James Loyd was awarded permanent partial disability benefits after being injured on the job. Loyd did not appeal, and the order became final. Less than a month after such order was issued, Loyd filed a "Form 9" requesting continuing medical maintenance and requesting a portion of his permanent partial disability award be commuted to a lump sum payment. When this request was denied and the denial upheld by the Workers' Compensation Court and Court of Appeals, he appealed. Upon consideration, the Supreme Court hold that a claimant may seek to commute his or her permanent partial disability award after the hearing on permanent partial disability under 85 O.S. 2001 sec. 41(A). Additionally, the Court concluded that because Loyd did not request reservation of continuing medical maintenance and the trial court's order awarding permanent partial disability did not address or reserve the issue of continuing medical maintenance, Loyd's only recourse was to seek continuing medical maintenance through a reopening proceeding under 85 O.S. 2001 sec. 28. View "Loyd v. Michelin North America, Inc." on Justia Law
Dept. of Human Svcs v. Bruce
Claimant Nancy Bruce worked as a Certified Nurse's Assistant, or "residential life staff aide," for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services for twenty-six years. Her duties consisted primarily of lifting clients, cleaning them up, feeding them, and daily care. In 2012, Claimant was injured while lifting one such client. Although her Employer admitted the injury, the trial court denied compensability finding Claimant's employment was not the major cause of her injury. Claimant appealed, and a three-judge panel reversed and found that Claimant's employment was the major cause of the injury to her neck. Employer appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the order of the three-judge panel. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the three-judge panel's decision finding Claimant's work-related injury was the major cause of Claimant's neck injury was not against the clear weight of the evidence. The Court therefore vacated the Court of appeals' judgment and reinstated the order of the three-judge panel. View "Dept. of Human Svcs v. Bruce" on Justia Law