Articles Posted in South Dakota Supreme Court

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Dakota Mill & Grain, Inc. filed suit against Gateway Building Systems, Inc. Gateway had purchased a commercial general liability insurance policy from Western National Mutual Insurance Company, which was in effect during the period at issue. Western National provided Gateway with a defense in the action but issued a reservation of rights letter. Western National subsequently filed a complaint for declaratory judgment regarding coverage under the policy. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Western National, concluding that the policy between Gateway and Western National provided an initial grant of coverage in the Dakota Mill suit but that exclusions defeated coverage. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that disputed material facts precluded summary judgment in this declaratory action. Remanded. View "Western National Mutual Insurance Co. v. Gateway Building Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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James Mordhorst was injured while working for Fischer Furniture. Almost one year later, Dakota Truck Underwriters and Risk Administration Services (collectively, Insurers) terminated all workers’ compensation benefits. The South Dakota Department of Labor subsequently ordered Insurers to pay all past medical bills and interest as well as future medial expenses. Mordhorst then filed an action seeking punitive damages for an alleged bad-faith denial of workers’ compensation benefits. The circuit court granted Insurers’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief could be granted. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred by granting Insurers’ motion to dismiss because Mordhorst asserted facts that, if true, state a claim for bad faith denial of a workers’ compensation claim and that Insurers’ reliance on an independent medical examiner’s report to deny benefits was not per se reasonable. View "Mordhorst v. Dakota Truck Underwriters" on Justia Law

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Dusty Groom’s handgun discharged, shooting Brody Heitmann in the head. Heitmann survived and sued Groom. Heitmann obtained a judgment against Groom and also obtained an assignment from Groom of Groom’s right to enforce coverage under an insurance policy issued to Groom’s grandmother by American Family Mutual Insurance. Heitmann subsequently filed a declaratory judgment action against American Family seeking ruling that, on the date of the shooting, Groom was an insured under the policy for purposes of liability coverage. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of American Family. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a relative of the insured residing on the insured’s premises, and not in the household of the insured, is not a “resident relative” under the policy. View "Heitmann v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Kern was injured in a rear-end collision in which the other driver was at fault. Kern filed an underinsured motorist (UIM) claim with Progressive Northern Insurance Company, his insurance provider. Months of settlement negotiations ended in a stalemate. Thereafter, Kern brought an action against Progressive for bad faith, alleging that Progressive’s settlement offers had been intentionally inadequate. Kern also sought unpaid UIM benefits. After a trial, the jury awarded Kern $18,650 in unpaid UIM damages and found that Progressive had not acted in bad faith. Kern appealed, alleging several errors. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that none of Kern’s alleged errors required reversal and that the trial court did not clearly err by refusing to award attorney’s fees. View "Kern v. Progressive Northern Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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After a severe storm, Richard and Lorayna Papousek discovered that ninety-three of their cattle were dead. It was determined that the cause of the cattle’s death was drowning. At the time, the Papouseks had in effect a farmowner-ranchowner policy purchased from De Smet Farm Mutual Insurance Company of South Dakota. De Smet denied the Papouseks’ claim filed under the drowning provision of the policy because none of the cattle were found submerged in water. The Papouseks filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that the policy covered the cattle losses. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of De Smet. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Papouseks established coverage under the drowning provision, and De Smet did not prove an exclusion to coverage under the policy. View "Papousek v. De Smet Farm Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Charles Korzan and his brother, Michael Korzan, were transporting hay bales in a semi-trailer when the the hay ignited and spread fire to nearby lands. Plaintiffs sued the Korzans, alleging nuisance, negligence, trespass, and punitive damages for the fires. Charles’s insurance carrier, North Star Mutual Insurance Company, filed a separate action seeking a determination as to whether it had a duty to defend and indemnify the Korzans for the fires. The circuit court granted North Star’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that no coverage existed under the policy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that coverage was precluded under the policy. View "N. Star Mut. Ins. v. Korzan" on Justia Law

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David Zerfas swerved to avoid a deer carcass in his lane of travel and lost control of his vehicle. Zerfas died after his vehicle was hit by oncoming traffic. Zerfas’s wife, Stacey, sought uninsured motorist benefits with their automobile insurance company, AMCO Insurance Company, alleging that an unidentified driver left the deer carcass in the lane of travel, which caused Zerfas to lose control of his vehicle. AMCO denied Stacey’s claim on the grounds that Stacey would not legally be entitled to recover damages from the unidentified driver. Stacey subsequently brought a breach of contract action against AMCO. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of AMCO, concluding that the unidentified driver did not have a legal duty to Zerfas to remove the carcass or warn of its existence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no common law or statutory duty existed between the unidentified driver and Zerfas, and therefore, the circuit court did not err in granting AMCO summary judgment. View "Zerfas v. AMCO Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Steven Thomas & Sons (T&S), LLC did excavation and soil compaction work for an addition to a school building in the Kimball School District. The School District was later informed that problems in the building caused by settling issues were due to negligently performed work by T&S. The School District brought suit against T&S and other defendants. T&S’s commercial general liability insurer, Employers Mutual Casualty Company (EMC) withdrew from contributing to T&S's defense, asserting that the policy excluded coverage for continuous or progressive property damage that occurred before the effective date of the policy, and the problems to the building were observed before the 2007 policy date. In 2005 and 2006, T&S was insured by AMCO Insurance Company. Ultimately, AMCO paid defense costs and indemnified T&S for its share of the arbitration award in favor of the School District. AMCO subsequently brought a declaratory judgment action against EMC seeking a ruling that EMC had a joint duty to defend T&S and a declaration that EMC’s policy exclusion was void as against public policy. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of EMC. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that EMC’s exclusion did not violate public policy. View "AMCO Ins. Co. v. Employers Mut. Cas. Co." on Justia Law

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Jonathan Quinn and his family were residential tenants of Barker & Little, Inc., when Quinn’s daughter was diagnosed with lead poisoning, Quinn sued Barker & Little for the injuries his daughter sustained from the high concentrations of lead in the leased premises. Barker & Little tendered the claim to Farmers Insurance Exchange (Farmers) and Truck Insurance Exchange (Truck). Farmers declined to defend Barker & Little under the applicable insurance policies. After a trial, the circuit court rendered judgment for Quinn. Quinn then asserted standing to bring all claims against Farmers and Truck that otherwise could have been brought by Barker & Little. Farmers and Truck moved for summary judgment on the basis of exclusions in the applicable policies. The circuit court granted the motion, concluding that Farmers had no duty to defend or indemnify Barker & Little in the underlying action. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that genuine issues of material fact existed that precluded summary judgment in this case. View "Quinn v. Farmers Ins. Exch." on Justia Law

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Appellant suffered work-related injuries in 2000 and received workers' compensation benefits until 2004. Appellant filed another first report of injury in 2009 based on the same injuries. Employer denied benefits. Appellant filed a petition for rehearing. The Department of Labor & Regulation, Division of Labor & Management found that S.D. Codified Laws 62-7-35.1 barred Appellant's second claim for workers' compensation benefits because more than three years had passed between the date of the last payment of benefits and the date Appellant filed a written petition for a hearing. The circuit court affirmed. Appellant appealed, arguing section 62-7-35.1 should not apply to this case because his injuries were from cumulative trauma. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the cumulative trauma doctrine did not change section 62-7-35.1's application to this case because the cumulative trauma doctrine applies to the date of injury, which is irrelevant to section 62-7-35.1. View "Schuelke v. Belle Fourche Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law