Justia Arizona Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Cramer v. Hon. Starr
A car driven by Courtney Cramer rear-ended a vehicle in which Tammy Munguia was a passenger. The next year, Munguia had surgery on her back to treat her persistent low back pain that resulted from the accident. The surgery did not cure Munguia’s symptoms and may have exacerbated her condition. Munguia subsequently filed a personal injury action against Cramer. Cramer filed a notice naming the surgeon as a nonparty at fault. The trial court granted Munguia’s motion to strike, concluding that, under the common law “original tortfeasor rule” (OTR), Cramer, as the original tortfeasor, was liable for the foreseeable risks arising from her tort, including subsequent medical negligence. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the OTR does not preclude a defendant from alleging, or the trier of fact from considering, fault of a nonparty physician who treated the plaintiff for injuries allegedly sustained from the defendant’s tort; and (2) under the OTR, an individual who negligently causes an injury that reasonably necessitates medical treatment may also be liable for any enhanced harm proximately resulting from the individual’s negligence, including subsequent injury and related damages negligently but foreseeably caused by a medical provider. View "Cramer v. Hon. Starr" on Justia Law
Stenz v. Indus. Comm’n of Ariz.
Charles Stenz suffered a workplace injury. His employer’s insurance carrier, Pinnacle Risk Management, accepted Stenz’s claim and paid the benefits. Stenz subsequently died, and his widow, Elizabeth Stenz, filed a claim for death benefits. An administrative law judge (ALJ) upheld the denial. The court of appeals set aside the award. The ALJ eventually awarded death benefits and, almost four years after Elizabeth filed her claim, entered a final order affirming the award. Pinnacle paid the benefits dating back to Stenz’s death but did not pay interest on the unpaid benefits. The ALJ concluded that no interest was owed on the death benefit before the award became final. The court of appeals set this ruling aside, concluding that the claim was liquidated as of the date Pinnacle received notice of it. The Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals and set aside the ALJ’s award, holding that a claim for death benefits filed pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 23-1046 is a liquidated claim, and interest is owed on the claim from the date on which the carrier receives notice that a survivor has filed a claim with the Industrial Commission. View "Stenz v. Indus. Comm’n of Ariz." on Justia Law
Wilks v. Manobianco
Under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 20-259.01, insurers must offer uninsured motorist (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage to their insureds and may prove compliance by having their insureds sign a Department of Insurance (DOI) approved form selecting or rejecting such coverage. Plaintiff obtained car insurance from State Farm through Defendant, an insurance agent. Plaintiff requested that her policy include both UM and UIM coverage, but Defendant procured insurance that did not include UIM coverage. Plaintiff signed the DOI-approved form, which had been filled out by Defendant to reject UIM coverage. Plaintiff and her husband later sued Defendant for malpractice for failing to procure the insurance coverage they had requested. The trial court concluded that Defendant’s compliance with section 20-259.01 demonstrated that it fulfilled its duties to Plaintiff regarding the offer of UM/UIM coverage, and therefore, Defendant breached no duty owed to Plaintiffs. The court of appeals reversed, holding that section 20-259.01(B) did not abolish the common law duty of reasonable care insurance agents owe their clients. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that compliance with section 20-259.01 does not bar a negligence claim alleging that the insurance agent failed to procure the UIM coverage requested by the insured. View "Wilks v. Manobianco" on Justia Law
Fleming v. Dep’t of Pub. Safety
At issue in this case was Ariz. Rev. Stat. 12-820.02(A)(7), under which public entities and employees enjoy qualified immunity from liability for an injury to a motor vehicle driver that is attributable to the driver’s violation of statutes prohibiting reckless driving and driving while under the influence. Faith Mascolino died after she was arrested for driving under the influence and placed in the rear seat of a Department of Public Safety (DPS) cruiser, which was struck by another motorist. Plaintiff, the conservator for Mascolino’s minor children, filed this wrongful death action against DPS. The trial court instructed the jury on section 12-820.02(A)(7)’s qualified immunity. The jury found the motorist seventy-five percent at fault, Mascolino twenty-five percent at fault, and assigned no fault to DPS. The court of appeals upheld the giving of the section 12-820.02(A)(7) instruction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) section 12-820.02(A)(7)’s qualified immunity applies only when the driver was injured while driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle; and (2) the statute was inapplicable in this case, as Mascolino was not a driver of the motor vehicle at the relevant time. View "Fleming v. Dep’t of Pub. Safety" on Justia Law
Glazer v. State
In 2007, the driver of a vehicle heading eastbound on Interstate 10 lost control of her vehicle, which crossed through a dirt median into the westbound lanes, and crashed into Plaintiff’s vehicle, killing Plaintiff’s husband and daughter and seriously injuring Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued the State for failing to install a median barrier in the area of the accident. The State moved for summary judgment based on Ariz. Rev. Stat. 12-820.03, which provides public entities a “state of the art” affirmative defense against claims for injuries arising out of a plan or design for construction of a roadway. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that section 12-820.03 did not apply because Plaintiff did not allege that I-10 was unsafe when it was designed in 1967 but that the circumstances in 2007 rendered this portion of the interstate unreasonably unsafe. The court subsequently denied the State’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, which again asserted section 12-820.03’s affirmative defense. The jury found in favor of Plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the affirmative defense in section 12-820.03 remains available even if material changes to travel have rendered the roadway substandard; but (2) the State failed to establish every element of the defense in this case. View "Glazer v. State" on Justia Law
Guerra v. State
Plaintiff and her friend were involved in an automobile accident which killed Plaintiff’s friend and hospitalized Plaintiff. Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers erroneously identified the surviving patient and informed Plaintiff’s family that Plaintiff had died. Six days after the notification, Plaintiff was positively identified as the hospital patient. Plaintiff and her family (Plaintiffs) sued the State, alleging, as relevant to this appeal, negligence. The superior court granted partial summary judgment to the State, concluding that the officers did not owe a duty to Plaintiffs. The court of appeals reversed and reinstated Plaintiffs’ negligence claim. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and affirmed the superior court’s entry of summary judgment for the State, holding that, as a matter of policy, the DPS officers did not assume a legal duty to Plaintiffs by undertaking to provide the next-of-kin notification. View "Guerra v. State" on Justia Law
Orca Commc’ns Unlimited, LLC v. Noder
Orca Communications Unlimited, LLC filed this action against Ann Noder, its former president, and the competing company Noder started after she left Orca, asserting common law tort clams based on alleged misappropriation of confidential information. The superior court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Orca’s common law claims were preempted by Arizona’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (AUTSA), which creates an exclusive cause of action - and displaces conflicting causes of action - for claims based on the misappropriation of trade secrets. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) AUTSA does not displace common-law claims based on alleged misappropriation of confidential information that is not a trade secret; and (2) therefore, AUTSA did not displace Orca’s unfair competition claim. View "Orca Commc’ns Unlimited, LLC v. Noder" on Justia Law
Quihuis v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.
An insurer refused to defend its insured against a third party’s tort claims. The third party, standing in the insureds’ shoes, brought a declaratory judgment action against the insurer for indemnification and failure to defend. Prior to the instant suit, an Arizona state court entered default judgment against the insureds that was entered pursuant to a Damron agreement that stipulated facts determinative of both liability and coverage. In the instant case, a federal district court granted summary judgment for the insurer. Applying Arizona law, the district court concluded that the default judgment did not preclude the insurer from litigating the question of whether coverage existed under the policy and that, as a matter of law, the insured did not own the vehicle involved in the accident at the time of the accident. The Supreme Court accepted certification and held (1) insurers are generally not precluded from litigating pure coverage issues in a default judgment action; (2) an insurer in a coverage action may not, in the guise of a coverage defense, litigate what are essentially and solely liability issues resolved by the default judgment; and (3) the insurer here was not precluded from litigating, for coverage purposes, who owned the vehicle at issue at the time of the accident. View "Quihuis v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co." on Justia Law
State v. Pena
Defendant assaulted a victim with a knife or other sharp object, injuring the victim’s hand, leg, and abdomen. A jury found Defendant guilty of three counts of aggravated assault, one for each wound. Defendant was convicted under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-1204(A)(3), which states that an assault is aggravated if it is committed “by any means of force that causes temporary but substantial disfigurement…of any body part.” The court of appeals affirmed the hand-injury conviction but reversed the abdominal-injury conviction. Both parties sought review, each arguing that the court of appeals misinterpreted the phrase “temporary but substantial disfigurement.” The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the court of appeals did not err in concluding that the location of an injury does not determine whether it is disfiguring; (2) the court of appeals erred in suggesting that the “duration” of a temporary injury is relevant in determining whether a person has been disfigured and in suggesting that a substantial injury must be comparable to a fracture or the loss of an organ or body part; and (3) sufficient evidence supported the jury’s finding that the victim’s abdominal injury constituted a “temporary but substantial disfigurement.” View "State v. Pena" on Justia Law
Metzler v. BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Los Angeles, Inc.
Plaintiff filed a personal injury suit against Defendant, BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. BCI rejected Plaintiff’s offer of judgment to settle, and the case proceeded to trial. The jury rendered a verdict for Plaintiff and awarded her damages. The trial court entered a total award of $2,135,867, which included prejudgment interest under Ariz. R. Civ. P. 68(g) as a sanction against BCI for rejecting Plaintiff’s offer of judgment. At issue in this case was whether the prejudgment interest was interest on an “obligation” under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 44-1201(A) or interest on a judgment” under section 44-1201(B). The trial court concluded that the prejudgment interest awarded as a sanction pursuant to Rule 68(g) was interest on an “obligation,” thus entitling Plaintiff to the ten percent rate set forth in section 44-1201(A). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the applicable rate for prejudgment interest under Rule 68(g) in this case was 4.25 percent based on section 44-1201(B). View "Metzler v. BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Los Angeles, Inc." on Justia Law