Justia Arkansas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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Employee was employer at Employer's aluminum-processing plant from 1957 to 1989. In 2009, Employee filed an occupational-disease claim for benefits with the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission, alleging that he suffered from cancer caused by his exposure to asbestos while working for Employer. A law judge found Employee's complaint was time barred. Rather than appeal the decision to the full Commission, Employee filed suit against Employer in circuit court. Employer filed a motion to dismiss based on the exclusive remedy afforded by the Workers' Compensation Act. The circuit court denied the motion, concluding that, where a plaintiff's disease manifests after the statute of limitations has expired, a circuit court has authority to exercise jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claims. The Supreme Court granted Employer's requested writ of prohibition, holding that the Commission had exclusive jurisdiction to decide the issue in the first instance, and because Employee's claim was not submitted to the Commission, the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case. View "Reynolds Metal Co. v. Circuit Court" on Justia Law

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Appellant filed a claim for benefits associated with an injury he received during his employment. The Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commissioned denied the claim based on a finding that Appellant tested positive for controlled substances after the injury and that he failed to rebut the statutory presumption that his injury was substantially occasioned by his drug use. Appellant appealed, arguing that the Commission's decision was not supported by substantial evidence and that the Commission lacked the authority to make credibility determinations contrary to those made by an ALJ. Currently before the Supreme Court was Defendant's motion to supplement the record with affidavits and depositions that Appellant attached to a brief he previously filed. The Supreme Court remanded to the Commission to settle the record to determine whether the documents were actually placed in the record. View "Prock v. Bull Shoals Boat Landing" on Justia Law

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Appellant was employed by Employer when he suffered a compensable work-related brain injury. Appellant, who was permanently and totally disabled, filed a workers' compensation claim seeking benefits and also requested benefits for the nursing care services his mother was providing. The workers' compensation commission (Commission) found Appellant's injury was compensable but denied the requested nursing service benefits. Appellant subsequently made a second request for additional benefits in the form of nursing services at Timber Ridge Ranch, an assisted living facility. The Commission denied Appellant benefits, finding that the services at Timber Ridge were not nursing services as defined by the law. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Commission's findings and conclusions were not supported by substantial evidence and that the services provided at Timber Ridge qualified as nursing services under the applicable statutes. Remanded. View "Pack v. Little Rock Convention Ctr. & Visitors Bureau" on Justia Law

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Booker T. Washington, Jr. filed a claim against Porocel Corporation with the Workers' Compensation Commission, alleging exposure to asbestos and silica dust resulting in lung disease and silicosis. An ALJ found Washington's claim was barred by the statute of limitations. Washington subsequently filed suit against Porocel, alleging, inter alia, negligence and breach of implied warranty. Porocel moved to dismiss the complaint, contending that the Commission had exclusive jurisdiction of the claims alleged and that the Arkansas Workers Compensation Act (Act) was Washington's exclusive remedy. The circuit court denied Porocel's motion to dismiss, concluding that Washington's occupational disease was not one for which the Act provided coverage. Porocel then filed a petition for a writ of prohibition to prevent the circuit court from exercising jurisdiction over Washington's complaint. The Supreme Court granted the petition, holding that Washington's claim was covered by the Act. View "Porocel Corp. v. Circuit Court" on Justia Law

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Holline and William Parsons (Plaintiffs) were enrolled in Today's Option, a Medicare Advantage Plan sponsored by the Pyramid Life Insurance Company (Pyramid). After Plaintiffs were each disenrolled from their respective plans, they brought suit against Pyramid, asserting numerous state law claims. The circuit court granted Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment in part declaring that the Medicare Act did not provide the exclusive remedy for Plaintiffs' claims in this case. Pyramid then moved for Ark. R. Civ. P. 54(b) certification and a stay pending appeal, requesting permission to file an interlocutory appeal on the issues of whether Plaintiffs' state-law claims arose under the Medicare Act and whether their claims, to the extent they did not arise under the Act, were expressly preempted by the Act. The circuit court certified this appeal pursuant to Rule 54(b). The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal without prejudice, holding that the finding supporting Rule 54(b) certification was in error. View "Pyramid Life Ins. Co. v. Parsons" on Justia Law

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State Farm filed a complaint for negligence against Appellant, alleging that Appellant was at fault in an automobile accident with State Farm's insured. Appellant counterclaimed, alleging that State Farm was unjustly enriched as a result of having engaged in the deceptive and unlawful business practice of causing collection-style letters to be mailed in an attempt to collect unadjudicated, potential subrogation claims as debts. Appellant's counterclaim identified two putative classes. State Farm filed a motion to strike the class allegations. Rather than granting the motion to strike class allegations, the circuit court denied class certification "for the reasons stated in State Farm's motion." The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court acted without due consideration of the Court's foregoing case law on typicality, commonality, and predominance and therefore abused its discretion in prematurely denying class certification at the early pleading stage of this case. Remanded. View "Kersten v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Appellant issued a motorcycle insurance policy to Brian McCallum that contained accident and healthcare coverage. The policy included a provision for subrogation of payments made for any injury caused by a third party. After McCallum was involved in a collision with Margarita Saldivar, Appellant paid McCallum's medical expenses. Appellant then filed a complaint alleging Saldivar's negligence and seeking to receive subrogation benefits from Saldivar. The circuit court rejected Appellant's argument that it was entitled to subrogation benefits from Saldivar and granted summary judgment in Saldivar's favor. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding (1) the circuit court erred in its interpretation of the relevant statutes; and (2) Appellant properly sought general "subrogation benefits from the third party,'" as permitted by Ark. Stat. Ann. 23-79-146. View "Progressive Halcyon Ins. v. Saldivar" on Justia Law

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When Cody Metheny underwent brain surgery, the physician (Doctor) mistakenly operated on the wrong side of his brain. Fifteen months later, Cody's parents (the Methenys) learned tissue had been removed from the wrong side of Cody's brain. The Methenys filed a direct-action suit, alleging medical negligence on the part of Hospital where Doctor practiced and against Hospital's liability-insurance carrier (Insurer). The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Methenys. Insurer appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in (1) failing to instruct the jury in a manner that would allow it to apportion liability among it and certain physicians who were sued in a prior case but ultimately settled; (2) refusing to allow Insurer to present evidence of fault attributable to the settling physicians; and (3) denying Insurer's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict where the evidence supporting Cody's future damages was based on improperly bundled calculations. The Methenys cross-appealed the circuit court's order reducing the jury's verdict from $20 million to $11 million. The Supreme Court affirmed on direct appeal and cross-appeal, holding that the circuit court did not err in its judgment. View "ProAssurance Indem. Co. v. Metheny" on Justia Law

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This matter began when the state insurance commissioner filed a petition for receivership against Signature Life Insurance Company of America, which had become insolvent. The commissioner was appointed receiver and began to rehabilitate Signature. The successor to the commissioner then filed a complaint against Frank Whitbeck, the sole shareholder and director of Signature, who obtained the loans from the company resulting in its insolvency, and several LLCs, all of which were owned by Whitbeck. This action was settled. The circuit court subsequently approved a rehabilitation plan for Signature. Due to Whitbeck's failure to perform under the rehabilitation plan, the receiver filed a petition for order of liquidation and for foreclosure and replevin. The circuit court entered an order of liquidation and a foreclosure and replevin decree ordering the sale of the real property. Whitbeck filed a complaint seeking a declaration that the receiver's alleged malfeasance and nonfeasance extinguished and released Defendants from any further liability. The circuit court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Whitbeck's claims were barred by the claim preclusion facet of res judicata, and the circuit court did not err in dismissing Whitbeck's action. View "Whitbeck v. Bradford" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a personal-injury action brought by Appellant against Appellees, an insurance company and two people who were involved with Appellant in a three-vehicle automobile accident. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Appellant and against one of the individual appellees. Appellant's son received a verdict against the other individual appellee. Appellant subsequently filed a motion for new trial based on jury misconduct, insufficient damages, and a verdict contrary to the preponderance of the evidence. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) juror affidavits attached to Appellant's motion for new trial that asserted that the jury considered Appellant's employer-provided health insurance in calculating his damages did not fall within the extraneous-information exception of Ark. R. Evid. 606(b); and (2) the record was inadequate to address Appellant's argument that the jury's calculation of damages was insufficient. View "Blake v. Shellstrom" on Justia Law