Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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Claimant Lydia Diamond appeals the summary judgment decision of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor denying her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. In April 2001, claimant was injured in a motor vehicle collision while delivering newspapers for employer. The crash exacerbated claimant’s preexisting right carpal tunnel syndrome. She underwent right carpal tunnel release surgery in February 2002, and had a surgical release of her left carpal tunnel in January 2003. After the surgeries, it became clear that claimant had unresolved neck pain relating to the work accident. Her doctor diagnosed disc herniations in her cervical spine and in September 2003 performed discectomies at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels of her cervical spine and a two-level cervical fusion at C4-C6. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a workers’ compensation award of permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits based on damage to the C4-6 levels of claimant’s cervical spine precluded a subsequent award of PPD benefits, more than six years later, for damage to the C3-4 levels of claimant’s spine that arose, over time, from the same work injury. Claimant appealed the grant of summary judgment by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor that denied her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. The Commissioner determined that claimant’s request for the additional PPD benefits amounted to a request to modify the prior PPD award and was time-barred. The Supreme Court concluded, based on the specific language of the initial PPD award, it did not purport to encompass injury to other levels of claimant’s cervical spine beyond the C4-6 levels. Accordingly, claimant was not seeking to modify the prior PPD award but, rather, sought PPD benefits for physical damage not encompassed within a previous PPD award. Her claim was therefore timely, and accordingly the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Diamond v. Burlington Free Press" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Ty Baker, Sr. pleaded no contest to grossly negligent operation in violation of 23 V.S.A. 1091(b) after his car collided with and totaled another car. Husband and wife owned the car; wife was driving the car when the accident occurred. Following his conviction and a contested restitution hearing, Baker was ordered to pay $828.88, which were lost wages for husband, who was not in the car at the time of the collision. Baker appealed that restitution order, arguing that husband did not qualify as a “victim” under the restitution statute, that the lost wages were not a “direct result” of defendant’s crime, and that the State’s evidence was insufficient to prove the amount of restitution. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held that even if husband was a victim under the restitution statute, his lost wages were not a direct result of defendant’s criminal act and therefore fell outside the scope of Vermont’s restitution statute, 13 V.S.A. 7043. Accordingly, the Court reversed and vacated the restitution order. View "Vermont v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Claimant Kimberly Haller was an employee of Champlain College when she suffered a work-related injury. Claimant had taken numerous courses at Champlain College pursuant to its “Tuition Benefits” policy. In the twenty-six weeks prior to her injury, claimant completed over ten credits of classwork at the College. The issue presented to the Department of Labor on cross-motions for summary judgment was whether the value of these tuition benefits should be included in the calculation of claimant’s average weekly wage for the purposes of her permanent partial disability benefit. The Commissioner concluded the tuition benefits was an “other advantage” that constituted part of claimant’s wages. The College argued on appeal the tuition benefit was not an "other advantage," nor did it amount to "remuneration" as defined in the applicable workers' compensation laws. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the Commissioner that where the non-health-insurance benefits at issue had actual monetary value and were actually received by the employee, they fell within the broad “other advantages” language. The Court concluded the Commissioner's determination was not unreasonable and affirmed. View "Haller v. Champlain College" on Justia Law

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J.C. Penney Corporation (employer) sought interlocutory review of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor’s denial of its motion for summary judgment in this workers’ compensation matter. Specifically, employer argued that the Commissioner lacked authority to invalidate an approved settlement agreement that the parties entered into pursuant to a previous claim. Brandy Clayton (claimant) has worked for employer for several years as a hair stylist. In February 2011, she filed a workers’ compensation claim for heel and arch pain in her left foot after suffering a work-related injury in March 2010 described as a result of standing all day on the job. Employer accepted the claim as compensable. Under the terms of the agreement, claimant received a lump sum payment “in full and final settlement of all claims for any and all benefits, injuries, diseases, illnesses, conditions, and/or symptoms and any and all sequelae allegedly sustained as a result of” her March workplace injury. The agreement included a clause stating that it was “intended to be a general release of all claims of the employee against the employer and the insurance carrier arising from employee’s employment with employer.” On March 17, 2015, approximately six months after the settlement was approved, claimant filed a new notice of injury, this time alleging a March 10, 2015 injury to her right foot. Employer filed a form denial on March 26, 2015, stating that claimant’s new, right-foot claim was denied as a preexisting condition and unrelated to employment. Employer also filed a letter with the Department, arguing that the claim should be dismissed for two reasons: first, that it was barred by the prior settlement agreement; and second, because the right-foot claim was reasonably discoverable and apparent at the time the settlement agreement was executed. Claimant appealed employer’s denial of her claim. The sole issue before the Commissioner was whether the parties’ September 2014 settlement agreement barred claimant’s second claim for workers’ compensation benefits. he Commissioner found that the settlement agreement “convey[ed] a clear and unambiguous message” and that the terms in the settlement agreement that released employer from claims related to the March 26, 2010 injuries were valid and enforceable. However, the Commissioner voided the remainder of the settlement agreement on public policy grounds. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed the Commissioner lacked authority to void the parties’ settlement agreement on public policy grounds, and reversed. View "Clayton v. J.C. Penney Corporation" on Justia Law

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Defendant Hector LeClair, plaintiff Joseph LeClair’s grandfather, was experienced in construction and has developed several properties around the Vermont. In 2011, defendant approached his son, Ricky LeClair, who also worked in construction, about replacing the roof on the building in which defendant had his office. Defendant’s son, Ricky, then approached his twenty-seven-year-old son, plaintiff, about working on defendant’s roofing project. Plaintiff had also worked in construction and was an experienced roofer, but was unemployed at the time. Plaintiff’s father told him he would make “good money” for working on defendant’s roof. Plaintiff’s father supplied the tools, equipment, and materials for the roof job. On October 7, 2011, plaintiff arrived at the property with another person to work on the roof. They had already removed the shingles from the roof, leaving only the underlayment, which on that October morning was covered with dew and early frost. Plaintiff claimed that he initially decided not to work on the roof because the frost made it slippery but changed his mind when defendant arrived at the property and ordered him to begin work. Plaintiff climbed a ladder onto the property’s roof; plaintiff fell from the second-story roof and landed on the paved driveway below, sustaining serious and permanent head and spinal injuries. Plaintiff sued defendant for his injuries, and appealed when the trial court granted defendant summary judgment. Plaintiff argued the trial court erred by concluding that defendant owed him no duty and that the court abused its discretion by denying his motion to amend his complaint to add a new liability theory. Given the circumstances of this case, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred in concluding, as a matter of law on summary judgment, that defendant owed no duty to plaintiff. View "LeClair v. LeClair" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff in this wrongful-death action appealed a trial court judgment dismissing her complaint as untimely. Plaintiff contended the trial court erred in: (1) denying her motion to amend the complaint to include a certificate of merit; (2) declining to treat the motion to amend as a petition to extend the statute of limitations; and (3) dismissing a claim for personal injuries incurred during the decedent’s lifetime. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "McClellan v. Haddock" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sandra J. Murphy (as personal representative and administrator of the Estate of Christopher Murphy) appealed a superior court decision that vacated a jury verdict in her favor and entered judgment as a matter of law for defendant Sentry Insurance. The decedent died after a forklift he was operating for his employer, Pete's RV Center, tipped over. At the time of the accident, the decedent was operating a forklift equipped with an unapproved towing attachment, and using the forklift to tow a fifth-wheel camper. In its capacity as Pete's general liability insurer, Sentry had performed a safety survey at Pete's in April 2002. Plaintiff sued Sentry, alleging in relevant part that Sentry was negligent in performing the safety survey because it failed to identify and warn of the dangers of using forklifts with unapproved towing attachments. Plaintiff contended on appeal that there was sufficient evidence to establish Sentry's liability for her husband's workplace death under the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 324A based on a negligent inspection theory. Plaintiff also argued that the court erred in awarding costs to Sentry. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that, assuming the risk of physical harm associated with the use of unapproved forklift attachments was present at the time of Sentry's inspection, nothing Sentry did increased the risk of physical harm to decedent from such attachments. The Court therefore agreed with the trial court that Sentry's liability could not be premised on section 324A(a). The Court found plaintiff's arguments with regard to whether the jury reasonably could conclude that through its inspection, Sentry assumed a portion of Pete's duty to provide a safe workplace to its employees, as unpersuasive. The Court affirmed the superior court's decision.View "Murphy v. Sentry Insurance" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Nicholas Bonnano appealed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment against him and in favor of his employer, Verizon, and Verizon’s third-party claims administrator, Sedgwick Claims Management. Plaintiff’s claims stemmed from an alleged breach of a settlement agreement with employer regarding his workers’ compensation claim. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the trial court erred because there was a dispute of material fact as to the voluntariness of employer’s temporary total disability (TTD) payments made to plaintiff after the TTD termination date indicated in the settlement. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court in all respects. View "Bonanno v. Verizon Business Network Systems" on Justia Law