Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Dolbeare v. City of Laconia
The City of Laconia owned and maintained Opechee Park. In May 2012, plaintiff Margaret Dolbeare was enjoying the playground equipment at the park with her granddaughter. As plaintiff approached the park swings, her foot caught under the edge of a mat. She fell and suffered injuries. This case was an interlocutory appeal by the City when the Superior Court denied its motion to dismiss negligence and nuisance claims. The trial court transferred two questions for the Supreme Court's review: (1) did the trial court err in finding that the City owed Plaintiff a duty, despite RSA 212:34, II; and (2) did the trial court err in holding that the City was not immune from suit under RSA 508:14, I, because “using playground equipment is not . . . recreation within the meaning of RSA 508:14”? After review, the Court answered both questions in the affirmative as they related to plaintiff’s negligence claim. Plaintiff argued that, notwithstanding either RSA 212:34, II or RSA 508:14, I, the City was liable for its alleged negligence under RSA 507-B:2 (2010). Because the trial court did not address this argument, the Supreme Court declined to do so in the first instance. Accordingly, the Court vacated the trial court’s order denying the City’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence claim. View "Dolbeare v. City of Laconia" on Justia Law
Lamb v. Shaker Regional Sch. Dist.
In 2012, Logan Lamb, a student at a school operated by defendant, the Shaker Regional School District, was playing football on the playground during the lunch recess when another student tackled him and “slammed him to the ground,” causing injury to his head. Logan did not return to class after lunch, and none of the school’s staff reported the incident on the playground or that Logan was missing from class. Logan was later found wandering the halls, disoriented. He was taken to the nurse’s office, where he remained for approximately fifty minutes, at which point the nurse contacted plaintiff to pick him up. The nurse did not call for an ambulance. Plaintiff took Logan to the emergency room, where she learned that he had possibly suffered a concussion. In 2014, plaintiff filed her complaint alleging defendant “acted in a special relationship to [Logan], taking responsibility for [his] health, safety, and [well-being] while he was under its care, custody, and control,” and that it had breached its duty leading to Logan’s injuries. Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that RSA 507-B:5 immunized it from plaintiff’s negligence claims and that those claims did not fall within the exception to immunity created by RSA 507-B:2. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the trial court erred by failing to apply the exception to general immunity pursuant to RSA 507-B:2 (2010). Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Lamb v. Shaker Regional Sch. Dist." on Justia Law
New Hampshire Fish & Game Dept. v. Bacon
Defendant Edward Bacon appealed a circuit court order that found he violated RSA 206:26-bb (2011) (amended 2014) by acting negligently while hiking, so as to require a search and rescue effort by the plaintiff, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, and that he, thus, was responsible to the Department for the reasonable costs associated with the search and rescue. defendant began a five-day solo hiking trip in the White Mountains, during which he planned to hike several mountains with summits over 5,000 feet. At the time of the hike, defendant was fifty-nine years old, had undergone four hip surgeries since 2005, and had an artificial hip that had dislocated on five occasions, twice during the prior year. Defendant also had a “bad back” and was taking a variety of medications for multiple ailments. During the hike, defendant encountered a waist-high rock ledge that he needed to traverse in order to continue on the trail. He attempted to jump backward up onto the ledge and, in the process, fell and dislocated his hip. Approximately one hour later, a Conservation Officer received an alert that a hiker had dislocated his hip and needed assistance. He responded immediately and eventually located the defendant on the trail between Little Haystack and Lincoln Mountains. The Officer testified that when he found defendant his left leg was flexed and internally rotated, the very position that defendant’s orthopedic surgeon had warned him to avoid due to his hip replacement. Approximately fifteen Department personnel and thirty-five volunteers participated in defendant’s rescue. The trial court found for the Department “for all of the reasons cited in the plaintiff’s closing memorandum,” and awarded the Department $9,334.86 in damages. Defendant filed a motion to reconsider, to which the Department objected. The court denied defendant’s motion, stating that “[t]he actions of the defendant were a gross deviation from those of a reasonable person that surpasses the [negligence] standard required.” After review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "New Hampshire Fish & Game Dept. v. Bacon" on Justia Law
Bartlett v. Commerce Ins. Co.
Petitioner Terry Ann Bartlett was injured in a motor vehicle accident in New York in August 2004, when the motorcycle owned and operated by Jeffrey Vilagos on which she was a passenger, was struck by a motor vehicle operated by Myroslaw Mykijewycz. Mykijewycz was insured by Allstate Insurance Company under a policy that provided liability insurance coverage up to $100,000 per person. Vilagos's motorcycle, which was registered and garaged in New Jersey, was insured by respondent Foremost Insurance Company. The Foremost policy was issued in New Jersey and provided uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage up to $250,000 per person. Petitioner also owned a motorcycle, which was registered and garaged in New Hampshire, and which was insured by respondent Progressive Northern Insurance Comapny under a policy that also provided UIM coverage up to $250,000 per person. Petitioner's other vehicles, which were both registered and garaged in New Hampshire, were insured by respondent Commerce Insurance Company under a policy that provided UIM coverage up to $250,000 per person. Petitioner's home was also insured by Commerce under a policy that contains a personal umbrella endorsement that provides $1,000,000 of single limited UIM coverage. Petitioner's New York attorney requested coverage information from Foremost, which Foremost provided. In April 2005, petitioner's attorney informed Progressive and Commerce that the petitioner intended to pursue UIM claims. Allstate offered petitioner its policy limit ($100,000). Petitioner's attorney notified Foremost, Progressive and Commerce of this fact and advised the respondent-insurers that, pursuant to New York law, they were either "required to grant [petitioner] permission to collect" the $100,000 from the Allstate policy "or to pay [her] [that] amount] within thirty (30) days." However, the New York law to which the attorney referred did not govern any of the insurers. Only Commerce responded to petitioner's attorney, granting petitioner permission to settle with Allstate. Allstate was thereafter released from liability. Petitioner sued Foremost, Progressive, and Commerce in New York in January 2011, more than six years after the accident. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed. While the insurers' motions to dismiss were pending, petitioner filed the underlying petition in this case for declaratory judgment. She moved, and the insurers cross-moved, for summary judgment. Commerce appealed, and petitioner cross-appealed the Superior Court's order partially granting and partially denying petitioner's summary judgment motion, denying Commerce's cross-motion for summary judgment, and granting cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Foremost and Progressive. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's determination that petitioner forfeited her right to recover primary insurance coverage under the Foremost policy and her right to recover excess insurance coverage under the Progressive policy and reversed its conclusion that Commerce had to "drop down" to provide primary coverage. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bartlett v. Commerce Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Appeal of Brandon Kelly
Petitioner Brandon Kelly challenged a decision of the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) denying his claim for workers' compensation benefits for severe injuries he sustained while driving between a job site and his place of employment. The CAB ruled that the injuries did not arise out of his employment as required by RSA 281-A:2, XI (2010). Petitioner was an employee of Advanced Sheet Metal in Hudson. His job involved traveling to job sites in a company truck. After working at a job site in Massachusetts, petitioner left for the company shop in Hudson where he intended to unload the truck. While driving, he fell asleep and hit a utility pole. As a result of the accident, his lower leg was amputated. Petitioner sought workers' compensation benefits. After respondent Arbella Insurance Company denied his claim, a hearing was held before the New Hampshire Department of Labor, which awarded benefits. Respondent appealed to the CAB, which, in a 2-1 decision, denied the petitioner's claim. The CAB found that it was undisputed that the petitioner was acting in the course of his employment at the time of the accident, and that the accident occurred because he fell asleep while driving. However, the CAB ruled that the injuries did not arise out of his employment. The CAB found that the injury was caused by a "mixed risk," and that petitioner failed to prove that "whatever abnormal weariness, if any, [he] might have been suffering that day was caused by his employment." Petitioner unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration, then appealed the CAB's decision. In "Margeson," the New Hampshire Supreme Court instructed the CAB that, in all future cases, it should make a finding regarding the cause of the claimant's injury: if the cause is a neutral risk, the increased-risk test applied; if the cause was a non-neutral risk, the claimant must prove legal and medical causation under the "Steinberg I" test. In this case, after concluding that the injury-causing risk was a mixed risk, the CAB ruled that, to be compensated, petitioner had to prove that his weariness was work-induced, and that petitioner failed to do so. The Supreme Court did not agree with the CAB that petitioner had to prove work-induced weariness as a prerequisite to receiving compensation in this case. "There can be no question that the injurious effects of falling asleep were increased by the environment in which the petitioner found himself at the time he fell asleep behind the wheel of a moving truck. We have no difficulty concluding on this record, as a matter of law, that the petitioner's employment was 'a substantial contributing factor to the injury.'" View "Appeal of Brandon Kelly " on Justia Law
Lennartz v. Oak Point Associates, P.A.
The defendants were involved in various aspects of the design, construction, and installation of a ventilation system in a research laboratory at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). By November 2003, the project was substantially complete. In November 2009, plaintiff suffered injuries while working in the laboratory due to a faulty vent pipe that exposed her to toxic fumes. In February 2012, plaintiff filed a negligence action against Oak Point, and in November 2012, she added Ambient as a defendant. Plaintiff also sued UNH, which owned the laboratory where plaintiff was injured, but she eventually settled her claims with UNH. Defendants subsequently filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff’s claims were barred by the statute of repose found in RSA 508:4-b, I. Plaintiff appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Lennartz v. Oak Point Associates, P.A." on Justia Law
White v. Vermont Mutual Insurance Company
Petitioners Susan and Peter White appealed a superior court order denying their petition for a declaratory judgment that respondent Charles Matthews was covered under a homeowner's insurance policy issues to his mother by respondent Vermont Mutual Insurance Company. Matthews' dog bit Mrs. White while Matthews was staying with friends at the mother's home in Moultonborough. The policy defined an "insured" to include "residents of your household who are… your relatives." Matthews’s mother also owns a home in Naples, Florida, where she lives for approximately half of the year, and where Matthews usually visits only at Christmas. The petitioners and Matthews claim that the Florida residence is Matthews’s mother’s primary residence, but they do not claim that Matthews is a resident of the Florida home. Matthews testified that he lived in Massachusetts for 80% or more of the year. However, he had not changed his voting registration since he first registered to vote when he was eighteen, and he was still registered to vote in Moultonborough (he voted in Moultonborough in the 2012 election, a month before the hearing in this case). Matthews also held a New Hampshire driver’s license and his vehicle was registered in New Hampshire (his decision to register his car in New Hampshire was motivated by his desire to avoid buying automobile insurance, which is required in Massachusetts). Matthews typically notifies his mother in advance of using the Moultonborough house for permission to stay there. Following the 2011 incident involving Matthews' dog, petitioners sought a declaratory judgment that Vermont Mutual was responsible for any damages that might recover from Matthews. After a bench trial, the court denied the petition and the subsequent motion for reconsideration, finding that the policy did not contemplate Matthews as a resident of the Moultonborough house. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "White v. Vermont Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Amica Mutual Insurance Company v. Mutrie
Intervenors Scott Kukesh, Eric Kulberg, Jeremiah Murphy, and Gregory Turner, appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment in favor of petitioner Amica Mutual Insurance Company. Amica filed a declaratory judgment action that against respondent Beverly Mutrie. The intervenors were four police officers who served on a drug task force. They executed a search warrant at a property in Greenland where Mutrie's son lived. The property was owned by a trust, of which Mutrie was the trustee. The warrant was issued because there was probable cause that Mutrie's son was engaged in criminal activity. During the execution of the search warrant, Mutrie's son opened fire, wounding the intervenors. Mutrie's son then turned the gun on himself. The intervenors filed a civil suit against Mutrie, alleging that Mutrie was responsible for their injuries because, "with the knowledge, information, and belief" that her son was engaged in criminal activity, she "did recklessly and wantonly allow . . . criminal activity and conduct to take place at the subject property and otherwise directly and indirectly and wantonly and recklessly supported and facilitated [her son's] criminal activity at the subject property." Amica assigned counsel to defend Mutrie, subject to a reservation of rights. In September 2012, Amica filed a petition for declaratory judgment, requesting a ruling that Amica has no duty to defend and indemnify Mutrie because the "reckless and wanton misconduct" alleged by the intervenors in their writ did not constitute an "occurrence" under the Policies. Subsequently, Amica moved for summary judgment. The trial court ruled in favor of Amica. On appeal, the intervenors argued the trial court erred when it concluded that the reckless and wanton acts alleged by the intervenors constituted "inherently injurious" or "intentional" conduct on the part of Mutrie and, therefore, the conduct did not constitute an "occurrence" under the Policies. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Amica Mutual Insurance Company v. Mutrie" on Justia Law
Posted in: Injury Law
Boulter v. Eli & Bessie Cohen Foundation
In the summer of 2008, defendant Eli and Bessie Cohen Foundation, doing business as Cohen Camps, hired Michael Feld to serve as a counselor at Camp Tel Noar on Sunset Lake in Hampstead, as it had done the previous summer. Prior to employing him each summer, defendant performed a criminal background check on Feld, and each time his record was clear. During the beginning of his second summer at the camp, other counselors noticed a change in Feld's personality from the prior year, including that he was more outgoing and eccentric, and that he behaved inappropriately at times. Feld has suffered from bipolar disorder for years. Feld's father spoke with the camp director and informed him that Feld could become "manic" and should be taking his medication. On the evening of July 6, Feld and a group of counselors went to a doughnut shop. While there, Feld became increasingly agitated, expressed a desire to return to the camp, and began throwing away the other counselors' unfinished food and drinks in an attempt to compel them to leave. Upon their return to the camp around midnight, Feld’s roommate reported Feld’s behavior to the boys' head counselor. Feld and his roommate then conversed with one another in their room for several hours, during which time Feld’s behavior became increasingly erratic and he demonstrated mood swings, paranoid thoughts, and delusions of grandeur. At approximately 5:00 a.m., Feld forced his way into a private residence immediately adjacent to the camp. The homeowner's wife telephoned the police and Feld ran from the premises. Plaintiff Kathleen Boulter, a Hampstead police officer, was dispatched "to detain, question and/or arrest the suspect as a result of his alleged conduct, and to investigate the home invasion complaint." As the plaintiff was interviewing the homeowner, they observed Feld running down the road naked. Plaintiff ran after Feld, repeatedly telling him to "get down on the ground." When Feld charged at her, plaintiff discharged her taser, but Feld tackled her and began to strangle her, nearly causing her to lose consciousness. The homeowner knocked Feld off plaintiff and plaintiff locked herself and the homeowner in her police cruiser to wait for backup. Feld was subsequently apprehended following a struggle with the plaintiff and two other officers who had been called to the scene. Plaintiff sued defendant and Feld to recover for injuries she suffered as she was attempting to arrest Feld, alleging negligent, reckless, and intentional misconduct. All four of the counts in her writ that pertained to defendant were based upon the assertion that defendant owed plaintiff a duty of care. According to plaintiff, "as a direct, proximate, and foreseeable result of the negligence of the Defendant, . . . [she] sustained painful, serious and permanent injuries." Because the injury giving rise to plaintiff's negligence claims directly arose from the alleged "negligent conduct which created the particular occasion for [her] official engagement," the Supreme Court concluded that such claims were barred by the Firefighter's Rule. View "Boulter v. Eli & Bessie Cohen Foundation" on Justia Law
England v. Brianas
Plaintiff Kenneth England appealed a Superior Court order that dismissed his negligence action against defendant Maria Brianas. For several months in 2009, defendant and Allen Bryson had an intimate relationship, which ended when Bryson moved out of state. After Bryson returned to New Hampshire in 2010, he contacted defendant several times, attempting to resume their relationship; he "became enraged" when she refused. Although the defendant told Bryson that she did not believe that they were "compatible," he nevertheless persisted in an abrasive and angry manner. Plaintiff and defendant met during the summer of 2008 and later began socializing and communicating through text messages. Defendant never told plaintiff about her relationship with Bryson or his behavior after he returned to New Hampshire. On February 13, 2010, while they were together at the Eagles Club, defendant invited plaintiff to spend the night at her house. Both were unaware that Bryson had broken into defendant's house through the basement and was waiting for her to return home. When plaintiff left defendant's living room to get a drink in the kitchen, Bryson stabbed him multiple times, causing serious injuries. Plaintiff argued that the trial court should have found that special circumstances existed that would support a finding of a legal duty owed to him by defendant and, therefore, should have denied defendant's motion to dismiss. Defendant countered that the trial court was correct in granting her motion to dismiss because plaintiff's writ of summons did not allege special circumstances or a special relationship sufficient to impose a duty to warn or protect plaintiff from Bryson's assault. "[C]lose friends, neighbors and extended family [would] find themselves at risk of civil liability for situations they did not create and over which they exercise no control." Because the Supreme Court concluded that defendant did not owe plaintiff a duty to warn him "that she had a potentially dangerous stalker who had been harassing her," the Court upheld the Superior Court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss. View "England v. Brianas" on Justia Law
Posted in: Injury Law