Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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In 2017, Appellant Darlene Johnson, a school cafeteria worker for the Midwest City Del City Public Schools, fell in the school parking lot sustaining injuries. Immediately prior to this fall, Johnson had walked off the employer's facility onto an adjacent city street to take an authorized work break to smoke a cigarette. It is undisputed that (1) no injury occurred to Johnson while she was outside of the employer's facility premises, (2) Johnson was "clocked in" when she fell in the parking lot, and (3) her supervisor authorized her work break. It is further undisputed that the location where Johnson smoked her cigarette complied with the employer/school policy with regard to tobacco products. Appellant’s employer denied her claims for workers’ compensation, arguing Johnson was not in the course and scope of employment because her injuries did not occur "inside the employer's facility" within the meaning of 85A O.S.Supp.2013, section 2(13)(d). The administrative law judge awarded benefits to Johnson, finding that her accidental personal injuries occurred inside the employer's facility and arose in the course and scope of employment as defined by Section 2(13)(d). The Workers' Compensation Commission reversed this decision finding the administrative law judge misapplied the law and determined that Johnson was not in the course and scope of employment at the time of her injuries because the parking lot was not "inside the employer's facility." The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the Commission. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals’ opinion, holding that the decision of the administrative law judge was neither against the clear weight of the evidence nor contrary to law and further that the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission was in excess of statutory authority or jurisdiction and affected by other errors of law. View "Johnson v. Midwest City Del City Public Schools" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified two questions of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Plaintiff-appellant George Morgan was driving drunk and hit Jesse Atkins with his truck at more than 40 miles per hour. Atkins was severely injured, and his resulting medical bills totaled more than $2 million. Defendant-appellee State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company provided liability insurance to Morgan at the time of the accident under a policy with a $100,000 limit. State Farm negotiated and executed a settlement with Atkins whereby State Farm paid its policy limit to Atkins and Atkins released his claims against Morgan. During the same timeframe, Atkins pursued a workers' compensation claim because he had been traveling for work when he was injured. The workers' compensation court issued a preliminary order for compensation, and the workers' compensation insurer began making payments to Atkins. The workers' compensation insurer's subrogee, New York Marine and General Insurance Company (NYM), sued Morgan in Oklahoma state court in June 2011 for reimbursement of the amounts paid to Atkins. Morgan retained personal counsel to represent him in the action. State Farm also provided counsel to Morgan and mounted a vigorous defense. A jury would later return a verdict in favor of NYM in the amount of $844,865.89, finding that State Farm knew about NYM's potential claim but failed to apprise NYM of its pending settlement with Atkins. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied certiorari. Morgan then filed suit against State Farm alleging State Farm's failure to secure NYM's release as part of its settlement with Atkins amounted to: (1) breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing; and (2) breach of contract. The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma found that Morgan's claims accrued in 2010, when State Farm negotiated the original settlement with Atkins and, therefore, concluded the applicable two and five year statutes of limitations for the tort and contract claims, respectively, barred Morgan's suit. Morgan appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit asked: (1) where a plaintiff is injured by entry of an adverse judgment that remains unstayed, is the injury sufficiently certain to support accrual of a tort cause of action based on that injury under 12 O.S. 95 before all appeals of the adverse judgment are exhausted?; and (2) does an action for breach of an insurance contract accrue at the moment of breach where a plaintiff is not injured until a later date? The Oklahoma Court answered the first question with a "no:" the claim accrues when the appeal is finally determined in the underlying case. The Court answered the second question with a "yes:" an action for breach of contract accrues when the contract is breached, not when damages result; the limitations period may be tolled if the defendant fraudulently concealed the cause of action. View "Morgan v. State Farm mutual Automobile Insur. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a negligence action based upon the alleged acts of defendants when one of the plaintiffs was staying in a hospital after surgery and received a burn from spilled hot water. The district granted defendants' motion to strike plaintiffs' witness list and defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the trial court erred in granting summary judgment striking the list of trial witnesses when plaintiffs were not provided time to respond to the motion to strike as granted by District Court Rule 4. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Shawreb v. SSM Health Care of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Sharla Whipple's twenty-three year old, unmarried son lost his life in a work related accident. Under the Workers Compensation Act, only a spouse, child, or legal guardian could file a Workers Compensation death benefit claim when a work related death occurs. Whipple's son had no spouse, child or legal guardian. Consequently, Whipple's only remedy was to file a wrongful death action. However, the trial court granted partial summary judgment against Whipple, determining that her only remedy was limited to the Workers Compensation system, rather than the district court. Whipple appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the right of a parent as the next of kin to bring a wrongful death action when the decedent was an adult, unmarried, and childless, was established in the law pursuant to 12 O.S. 2011 section1053 and by art. 23 section 7 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Therefore, the Legislative attempt to limit recovery for wrongful death pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2014 section 47 to a spouse, child or legal guardian dependent on the decedent was a nullity. "The Okla. Const ... prohibits the abrogation of the right to recover for injuries resulting in death. The Legislature may limit the recovery, but may not eliminate the right to recover." View "Whipple v. Phillips & Sons Trucking" on Justia Law

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In 2010, plaintiff-appellant James Payne pled nolo contendere to stalking in Case No. CF-2010-27 in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. He received a five-year deferment with special rules and conditions of probation. He was required to have no contact with the stalking victim. In addition, Payne pled guilty to violating a protective order in many other cases filed in Pittsburg County related to the same victim and was sentenced to six months in the county jail. The sentences were to run concurrently. He received extra credits and was released from custody on May 5, 2010. A month later, on June 10, 2010, the district attorney filed a motion to accelerate the deferred judgment for probation violations, alleging Payne had been contacting and harassing the victim. The district court issued a felony warrant and Payne was arrested and booked into jail by the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office on June 11, 2010. Payne did not post bail and remained in the county jail. The district court ultimately executed a minute order finding Payne guilty of violating the terms of his deferred sentence, for which he received a five year sentence: four suspended and one year to serve in the Department of Corrections. Payne received credit for time served in the county jail since his June 10 arrest. The Judgment and Sentence ordered Payne into DOC custody and directed the Pittsburg Sheriff's office to transfer Payne to the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center to begin serving his time in DOC custody. The Sheriff's Office of Pittsburg County did not transfer Payne to the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center (LARC) until September 6, 2011, almost three months past the end of his sentence. Payne was released that same day without serving any of his time in DOC custody. Payne sue various Pittsburg county corrections and governmental officials, arguing his constitutional rights had been violated because he remained in custody beyond his sentence. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari on the remaining issue preserved for review, i.e., whether a private right of action under Article 2 Section 9 of the Oklahoma Constitution existed under the facts of this case. The Court held a private right of action existed at the time Payne was detained past his sentence, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Payne v. Kerns" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Shelli Farley, a surviving spouse of a former City of Claremore fireman, successfully obtained a death benefits award in the Workers' Compensation Commission. She then brought a District Court action for damages alleging the death of her spouse was caused by negligence and an intentional tort committed by her spouse's employer who was a local government entity. She argued her action was also for the benefit of her surviving child, as well as the surviving parents and brother of the deceased. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded after review of the trial court record, that a tort action for damages suffered by a surviving spouse, surviving child, and parents of a deceased adult child did not survive for the purpose of a 12 O.S. 1053 wrongful death action when: (1) The wrongful death action arises from an injury compensable by an exclusive workers' compensation remedy and the tort action is brought against the employer of the deceased; and (2) the employer can claim sovereign immunity. In this case, the wrongful death injury was adjudicated and compensated by a successful workers' compensation claim after the death of the decedent. This successful adjudication demonstrated the decedent's injury was exclusively before the Commission and not cognizable as a District Court claim at the time of decedent's death. The parents' action for loss of companionship damages was extinguished at the time of decedent's death and did not survive. And the City was immune from suit because the tort claim against it was for liability for an injury properly compensated by a claim before the Workers' Compensation Commission. The brother of the deceased did not possess a wrongful death § 1053 action for loss of consortium. Furthermore, the Court concluded plaintiff lacked standing to seek injunctive relief. Dismissal of this case was affirmed. View "Farley v. City of Claremore" on Justia Law

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The estate of an individual that died as a result of an injury incurred while being a patient of a nursing home sued the nursing home facility in a wrongful death action. The district court entered default judgment for Plaintiff after Defendant failed to file a response or appear in court multiple times. Over 200 days later, Defendant filed a petition to vacate default judgment and the petition was granted. Plaintiff appealed the ruling, and the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA), affirmed the trial court's decision. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded it was "patently clear" Defendant's arguments for the Petition to Vacate Judgment as to liability was without merit. "[The Nursing Home] Meeker was given a multitude of opportunities to respond to the litigation, but failed to respond to a single instance for 280 days after the initial service of process. Meeker failed to respond to any service of process or appear at any hearing, and did not have an argument with merit to support the inability to respond to the litigation." Accordingly the Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals, reversed the trial court's judgment granting the Petition To Vacate Judgment as to liability, and remanded this matter for a trial on damages. View "Williams v. Meeker North Dawson Nursing, LLC" on Justia Law

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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