Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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In this case involving the deaths of seventy-eight minors in 1968 the Supreme Court answered questions of law certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by concluding that the law in effect at the time of the tragedy did not recognize a cause of action for fraudulent concealment with respect to a statutory wrongful death claim. Petitioners were survivors of the seventy-eight miners who were killed in 1968 when methane gas exploded at a mine in Farmington, West Virginia. Petitioners sued Respondent, the parent company of the owner and operator of the mine, alleging that Respondent fraudulently concealed facts regarding the cause of the mine explosion such that Petitioners were prevented from timely pursuing a claim for the wrongful deaths of their decedents. The federal district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Plaintiffs' wrongful death claim was barred by the then-applicable two-year limitation period and was not tolled by the fraudulent concealment doctrine. The court of appeals certified two questions of law to the Supreme Court. The Court answered that a fraudulent concealment claim is not cognizable when the alleged injury was the plaintiffs' loss of a timely claim for wrongful death and that the second certified question was moot. View "Michael v. Consolidation Coal Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Court reversed the portion of a circuit court order dismissing two counts in Jane Doe's complaint that asserted the Logan County Board of Education and its employees were negligent but affirmed the dismissal of Jane Doe's fiduciary duty claim against the Board, holding that instead of wholly dismissing Doe's negligence claims with prejudice, the circuit court should have first allowed a different option. In dismissing Doe's negligence claims the circuit court concluded that Doe had failed to plead sufficient facts in her complaint to state a claim for relief. The Supreme Court held (1) the negligence claims contained some factual allegations to support aspects of the alleged negligence, and therefore, the circuit court's dismissal, with prejudice, of the negligence claims was in error; and (2) the circuit court properly dismissed Doe's fiduciary duty claim because Doe did not satisfy the requirements of the Tort Claims Act, W. Va. Code 29-12A-1 to -18. View "Doe v. Logan County Board of Education" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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In this tort action, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the circuit court's order denying Petitioners' motion for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity, holding that Respondent failed to demonstrate a violation of a clearly established statutory or constitutional right or law of which a reasonable person would have known. Respondent brought this action against Petitioners, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) and some of its employees (collectively, Petitioners), alleging that Petitioners committed acts of defamation, false light, infringement of a liberty interest without due process, and reckless infliction of emotional distress. The circuit court denied Petitioners' motion for summary judgment asserting qualified immunity. The Supreme Court held that the circuit court (1) did not err in finding that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether Petitioners' acts or omissions were fraudulent, malicious, or oppressive and whether the individual DNR employees acted outside of their scope of employment; (2) did not err in its findings regarding the timing of the motion for summary judgment; but (3) erred in finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Petitioners were in violation of Respondent's clearly established rights of which a reasonable person would have known. View "W. Va. Division of Natural Resources v. Dawson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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In this excessive force action brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying summary judgment in favor of Petitioners, correctional officers and the warden at Mount Olive Correction Center (MOCC), on grounds of qualified immunity, holding that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment in this matter. Respondent, an inmate at MOCC, brought this action asserting violations of his federal constitutional rights. The circuit court concluded that Petitioners were not entitled to summary judgment because genuine issues of material fact existed concerning the excessive force, deliberate indifference, and supervisory liability claims brought against them. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) given the genuine issues of material fact in this matter, Petitioners were not entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity; and (2) the circuit court's order sufficiently addressed the parties' disparate factual allegations and the legal standards upon which the court's decision was based. View "McCourt v. Delgado" on Justia Law

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In this negligence case, the Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying the motion to dismiss filed by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources petitioners (DHHR Petitioners), holding that the DHHR Petitioners were entitled to qualified immunity. Respondents filed a complaint against the DHHR alleging that the DHHR negligently failed and refused to pursue subsidized guardianship for the infant in this case and negligently failed to take appropriate action in the best interest of that infant to obtain permanency and a final disposition. Respondents further alleged that, due to the DHHR’s failure, they were forced to hire counsel and file a petition for guardianship and that the infant was unjustly denied a monthly subsidy for ten years due to the actions of the DHHR Petitioners. The circuit court denied the DHHR Petitioners’ motion to dismiss, finding that qualified immunity did not bar Respondents’ claims. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that no basis for piercing the DHHR Petitioners’ qualified immunity existed. View "West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources v. V.P." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed two orders of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint against the City of Shepherdstown and Shepherdstown University for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress, holding that Plaintiff’s appeals were without merit. In its first order, the circuit court granted the City’s motion to dismiss. In its second order, the court granted the University’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. The two dismissal orders were nearly identical. The circuit court determined that Plaintiff’s complaint failed to establish a claim of malicious prosecution and a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the complaint failed to set forth sufficient allegations to sustain Plaintiff’s claims against the City and the University. View "Goodwin v. City of Shepherdstown" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted this petition for a writ of prohibition brought by insurers (collectively, Petitioners) seeking to have the Court prohibit enforcement of a ruling by the circuit court that denied Petitioners’ motion for summary judgment against Respondent, holding that the circuit court erred as a matter of law in denying Petitioners’ motion for summary judgment. David Ralph Allen died from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle collision with a car. The car was owned by an auto dealership, and Petitioners provided an insurance policy for the dealership. The garage operations and auto hazard provision of the policy provided a limit of $300,000 in liability coverage. The commercial umbrella provision provided up to $5 million in liability coverage. Respondent, administratrix of Allen’s estate, asserted a declaratory judgment action against Petitioners to determine the amount of insurance coverage available. Petitioners asserted that the umbrella coverage part of the policy did not cover Respondent’s claims against the driver. The circuit court denied Petitioners’ motion for summary judgment on the coverage issue. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the circuit court erred in denying summary judgment for Petitioners on the umbrella coverage issue. View "State ex rel. Universal Underwriters Insurance Co. v. Honorable Patrick Wilson" on Justia Law

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Workers’ compensation dependents’ death benefits awarded under West Virginia law are payable as long as the benefits awarded under the laws of another state for the same injury remain suspended due to a related third-party settlement. Petitioner received awards of dependents’ benefits in both Rhode Island and West Virginia. The West Virginia award was subject to W. Va. Code 23-2-1c(d), which provides for a credit of workers’ compensation benefits “awarded or recovered” under laws of another state. No benefits were paid out in connection to the West Virginia award because the weekly benefits paid in relation to the Rhode Island claim were greater than, and credited against, the West Virginia benefits awarded. After Petitioner reached a confidential settlement with defendants in a civil action she filed in relation to the decedent’s death her Rhode Island dependents’ benefits were suspended. Petitioner then requested payment of West Virginia dependents’ benefits. Petitioner’s request was denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the dependents’ benefits awarded under Rhode Island law were suspended, Petitioner was entitled to receive payments of dependents’ benefits awarded to her under West Virginia law. View "Moran v. Rosciti Construction Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Workers’ compensation dependents’ death benefits awarded under West Virginia law are payable as long as the benefits awarded under the laws of another state for the same injury remain suspended due to a related third-party settlement. Petitioner received awards of dependents’ benefits in both Rhode Island and West Virginia. The West Virginia award was subject to W. Va. Code 23-2-1c(d), which provides for a credit of workers’ compensation benefits “awarded or recovered” under laws of another state. No benefits were paid out in connection to the West Virginia award because the weekly benefits paid in relation to the Rhode Island claim were greater than, and credited against, the West Virginia benefits awarded. After Petitioner reached a confidential settlement with defendants in a civil action she filed in relation to the decedent’s death her Rhode Island dependents’ benefits were suspended. Petitioner then requested payment of West Virginia dependents’ benefits. Petitioner’s request was denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the dependents’ benefits awarded under Rhode Island law were suspended, Petitioner was entitled to receive payments of dependents’ benefits awarded to her under West Virginia law. View "Moran v. Rosciti Construction Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court upheld the Workers’ Compensation Board of Review’s finding that, based on the preponderance of the evidence, Jimmie Lemon’s injury was work related. Jimmie Lemon filed a workers’ compensation claim claiming that his low back injury occurred in the course of and resulting from his employment with Arch Coal, Inc. The Office of Judges found the claim compensable and designated Lemon’s compensable condition as a herniated disc. The Board of Review affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case with directions that the claim be rejected, concluding that Lemon’s injury was not work-related. Upon reconsideration, the Supreme Court upheld the prior administrative finding that Lemon’s injury was work-related. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the decision of the Board of Review and remanded with directions to reinstate the decisions of the Office of judges and the Board of Review that Lemon’s claim was compensable. View "Arch Coal, Inc. v. Lemon" on Justia Law