Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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The case revolves around a tort action brought by the widow of a deceased worker against various entities, including the employer, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company, and others involved in the construction project where the accident occurred. The widow alleged that these entities failed to provide proper supervision and safety protocols, leading to her husband's death. The employer, BJ's Oilfield Construction, Inc., filed a motion to dismiss a third-party petition filed against it by one of the defendants, SunPower Corporation Systems. The District Court sustained the motion to dismiss, leading to an appeal.In the lower courts, the widow's wrongful death claim was initially dismissed, leading to three separate appeals. The dismissals were based on the defendants identifying themselves with "prime contractor" status. The appellate court reversed the dismissals, stating that the defendants' assertions were unsupported. The cases were remanded back to the District Court.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma reversed the District Court's order dismissing SunPower's third-party petition against BJ's Oilfield. The court held that the exclusive remedy and liability language in the workers' compensation law does not prevent an employer from creating non-employer legal relationships, capacities, or roles. However, these relationships, capacities, or roles cannot create a negligence tort liability for the same physical injury used by a party for a compensable workers' compensation award. The court also held that the language of the workers' compensation law does not prohibit an employer from creating an indemnity agreement holding others harmless for the employer's intentional conduct not subject to exclusive workers' compensation remedies. The case was remanded for additional proceedings. View "KNOX v. OKLAHOMA GAS AND ELECTRIC CO." on Justia Law

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The case involves Nancy Anaya-Smith, the next of kin of Michael Brian Smith, who was killed in a single-car accident while he was a passenger in a company vehicle owned by Fixtures & Drywall Company of Oklahoma (FADCO). The vehicle was being driven by Smith's coworker, Duane Clark. Anaya-Smith alleges that Clark's negligence caused the fatal accident. At the time of the accident, FADCO maintained an insurance policy with Federated Mutual Insurance Company (Federated). The policy provided up to $1,000,000 of liability coverage per accident and an additional $6,000,000 of liability coverage per accident under an umbrella policy. However, FADCO had rejected uninsured motorist (UM) coverage for all employees, except for its directors, officers, partners, owners, and their family members.The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma granted summary judgment in favor of Federated, concluding that the vehicle was an uninsured vehicle at the time of the accident because Clark is immune from tort liability under the workers' compensation exclusive remedy provision, and that FADCO's policy providing UM coverage for some individuals who qualify as insureds but rejecting UM coverage for other insureds does not violate Oklahoma law. Anaya-Smith appealed from the summary judgment order.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma answered the first certified question in the affirmative, holding that the vehicle qualifies as an uninsured motor vehicle within the meaning of Oklahoma law. The court answered the second certified question in the negative, concluding that the plain language of Oklahoma law requires a named insured to either elect or reject uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage for all insureds under the policy, treating every insured in the same manner. The court declined to answer the third certified question as the record was undeveloped and the parties did not submit legal arguments pertaining to it. View "Anaya-Smith v. Federated Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma addressed a claim brought by a mother seeking recovery for the loss of her minor child who had drowned in a neighbor's swimming pool. The mother alleged negligence against the property owner, claiming that the swimming pool was an "attractive nuisance." Initially, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the property owner, arguing that the owner did not owe a duty to the child. The mother appealed the decision, leading the Court of Civil Appeals to reverse the district court's judgment, positing that whether the swimming pool was an attractive nuisance was a fact for the jury to decide.Upon review, the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma held that the swimming pool was not an attractive nuisance as a matter of law. The court observed that the pool did not contain any hidden or unusual element of danger. However, the court also determined that a question of fact remained regarding whether the owner could be held liable under ordinary premises liability law. This conclusion barred summary judgment in favor of the property owner.Thus, while the Court affirmed the district court's judgment concerning the attractive nuisance claim, it reversed the decision on the issue of ordinary premises liability. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. It was noted that these circumstances would allow a jury to evaluate all surrounding facts in determining liability under ordinary premises liability law. View "Brown v. Dempster" on Justia Law

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This case involves Jade P. Schiewe and Zachary Pfaff, who filed a lawsuit against the Cessna Aircraft Company, alleging negligence after a plane crash in September 2010. The plaintiffs were flying a Cessna 172RG when a fire erupted in the cockpit, leading to a crash landing. They claimed that Cessna was negligent in not updating its service manual to include a new part and its installation instructions. Cessna, however, filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiffs' claims were barred by the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA), an act that limits liability for aircraft manufacturers 18 years after the delivery of the aircraft to its first purchaser.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma affirmed the lower court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Cessna. The court held that the service manual was created by Cessna in its capacity as a manufacturer, and thus, was included within the limitation period provided in GARA. The court further found that Cessna had not added or omitted anything to the service manual that was a proximate cause of the accident, and thus, the GARA statute of repose did not restart. Therefore, the plaintiffs' claims were barred by GARA as the statute of repose had expired. View "SCHIEWE v. CESSNA AIRCRAFT CO" on Justia Law

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An ambulance, driven by an employee of the Jackson County Emergency Medical Services District (JCEMSD) in the State of Oklahoma, collided with a turnpike tollbooth, injuring the toll-worker. The toll-worker filed a lawsuit against the ambulance driver and the JCEMSD. The JCEMSD sought to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was entitled to governmental immunity under the Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA), and that the Act prohibited recovery because the toll-worker had already recovered workers compensation benefits. The trial court denied the dismissal, leading the JCEMSD to file an Application to Assume Original Jurisdiction and Petition for Writ of Prohibition in the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma to prevent the trial court from proceeding further.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma assumed original jurisdiction and granted the writ of prohibition. The court held that although the JCEMSD is a unique entity, it is subject to lawsuits through its board of trustees to the same extent as any Oklahoma municipality or county, pursuant to the Okla. Const. art. 10, §9C. The court also held that the GTCA is applicable to preclude recovery, as the toll-worker had already received workers compensation benefits. View "JACKSON COUNTY EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICE DISTRICT v. KIRKLAND" on Justia Law

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The parents of Elliott Williams created their individual wills and joint trust after Elliott died. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed on Elliott's behalf, and the Williamses were statutory beneficiaries to proceeds from the lawsuit. Before they received any such proceeds, they attempted to transfer them into their trust for estate planning purposes. Both parents subsequently died before the proceeds were determined or distributed. The petitioner, the personal representative of Elliott's mother's estate, then sought to have Elliott's mother's share judicially determined to belong in the trust. The trial court determined they belonged in the trust. The personal representative of the father's estate appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. In an issue of first impression, the Oklahoma Supreme Court considered whether proceeds from a wrongful death case could be transferred into a trust before they are obtained by the trust settlor. The Court held that they can, and if they were, they belonged in the trust. View "Hamilton v. Welsh" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were allegedly injured from a collision with an Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) Trooper. Less than three weeks after the accident, plaintiffs' lawyer sent the OHP a letter asking it to preserve any evidence relating to the incident, and to request some additional information. OHP forwarded the letter to the Oklahoma Office of Management & Enterprise Services (OMES) and OMES unilaterally determined that the request letter was the statutory notice of a governmental tort claim, triggering the time limits within the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (the Act). Plaintiffs' lawyer disagreed. Less than one year after the accident, the lawyer sent a notice of governmental tort claim to OMES. Five months later, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the OHP, seeking recovery for their injuries. OHP filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the letter requesting the preservation of evidence was notice of a governmental tort claim triggering time limits which had already expired by the time plaintiffs filed their lawsuit. The trial court agreed, and dismissed the cause. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted review to determine whether plaintiffs' letter requesting the preservation of evidence constituted the required statutory notice of a governmental tort claim. The Court held that it did not. View "Ullman v. Oklahoma Highway Patrol" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Steven Bird, an independent contractor hired to install a new checkout lane at Defendant Pruett's Food store, was injured after falling off a ladder Defendant had supplied to aid Plaintiff in completing the work. Plaintiff initiated a negligence action, seeking damages from his injuries and lost wages. Plaintiff presented his case at trial, after which Defendant demurred to Plaintiff's evidence. The trial court sustained the demurrer. Plaintiff appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that Plaintiff failed to establish that Defendant owed him a duty of care. View "Bird v. Pruett's Food, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellee Malcolm Penney left a wedding which was held at The Springs Event Venue and proceeded to drive the wrong way down a highway. He crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by Marissa Murrow, killing her. Murrows' parents sued The Springs. They did not allege that The Springs over-served Penney. Rather, they alleged The Springs had a duty to prevent Penney from leaving, and to enforce their policies which prohibited outside alcohol from being brought onto the premises. The trial court determined that the event venue had no duty to prevent harm to third-parties such as the deceased, and it granted summary judgment to The Springs. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that Oklahoma law did not recognize a duty on the part of a private event venue extending to third parties killed by a voluntarily intoxicated adult who attended, but was not "over-served" by the event venue. The trial court therefore did not err in denying the parents' Motion to Vacate/Modify. View "Murrow v. Penney" on Justia Law

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After Appellant Crystal Guilbeau suffered a miscarriage, Hospital employees photographed the child's remains and presented the images to her as part of Hospital's bereavement program. Appellant sued Hospital and unnamed employees on theories of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The trial court dismissed the negligence claims. Appellant later dismissed the remaining IIED claim without prejudice, and without appealing the trial court's dismissal of her negligence claims. In a subsequent lawsuit, Appellant re-alleged all of her original claims, added a new claim of invasion of privacy, and added Armor, a Hospital employee, as a defendant. The trial court granted Defendants' partial motions to dismiss. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, finding that: (1) Appellant was precluded from re-asserting her negligence claims in the second lawsuit, because she never sought review of the trial court's dismissal of those claims in the first lawsuit; (2) Appellant's addition of an invasion-of-privacy claim in the second lawsuit was not time-barred; however, (3) the invasion-of-privacy claim was properly dismissed because Appellant had no personal cause of action on these facts; and finally, (4) the addition of Armor as a defendant in the second lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the Court of Civil Appeals correctly decided the procedural claims, but erred in concluding that, as a matter of law, no claim for invasion of privacy could lie on the available facts. View "Guilbeau v. Durant, HMA" on Justia Law