Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Utah Code 34A-2-417(2)(a)(ii), a provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA) that limits the time an injured worker has to prove a claim, is a statute of repose but is nevertheless constitutional under the Open Courts Clause of the Utah Constitution. Section 34A-2-417(2)(a)(ii) provides that an employee claiming compensation for a workplace injury must prove that he or she is due the compensation claimed within twelve years from the date of the accident. Petitioners filed claims to receive permanent total disability benefits more than twelve years after the original workplace accident that led to their injuries. Petitioners’ claims were dismissed as untimely under the statute. In petitioning for review, Petitioners argued that the statute acts as a statute of repose and is unconstitutional under the Open Courts Clause. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 34A-2-417(2)(a)(ii) is a statute of repose but withstands Open Courts Clause scrutiny. View "Waite v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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Utah Code 35-1-65, which provides that an injured worker who is temporarily totally disabled shall not receive compensation benefits over a period of eight years from the date of the injury, does not operate as an unconstitutional statute of repose under the Open Courts Clause of the Utah Constitution. Petitioner suffered a back injury while working for the Granite School District in 1982. An impartial medical panel concluded that Petitioner’s injury was the medical cause of a subsequent surgery in 2014, but an administrative law judge (ALJ) with the Utah Labor Commission denied Petitioner’s request for temporary total disability compensation on the ground that more than eight years had elapsed since the date of the injury. The Appeals Board of the Commission affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 35-1-64 does not abrogate any previously existing remedy and so is not subject to an Open Courts Clause challenge; and (2) the Workers’ Compensation Act is an adequate substitute remedy for Petitioner’s common law tort of action. View "Petersen v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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In this splintered opinion, two justices would affirm in part and reverse in part the final order of the Labor Commission, two justices would affirm, and one justice would vacate and remand. Therefore, the order the Commission stood as issued. Appellee claimed workers’ compensation benefits against her employer for injuries she sustained while working. Appellee’s employer and its insurers initially paid Appellee’s benefits but later concluded that Appellee’s condition did not constitute a compensable accident under the Workers’ Compensation Act but was rather an occupational disease under the Occupational Disease Act. An administrative law judge (ALJ) disagreed and found in favor of Appellee, concluding that the employer was subject to ongoing liability for Appellee’s injuries, which were caused by a workplace accident under a theory of “cumulative trauma.” The Commission upheld the ALJ’s decision in its final order. In dispute in this opinion was the effect of the 1991 amendments to the Occupational Disease Act on the Workers’ Compensation Act. View "Rueda v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, which set aside the order of the Labor Commission concluding that Respondent had failed to make out a permanent total disability claim against her former employer, the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Hospital. The Commission reversed the order of an administrative law judge (ALJ), which awarded Respondent permanent total disability benefits. In denying Respondent’s application for permanent total disability benefits, the Commission concluded that Respondent had failed to show that she was limited in her ability to do basic work activities. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Respondent was not limited in her ability to perform basic work activities because her impairments did not “reasonably” limit her. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the Commission’s order denying Respondent’s application for permanent total disability benefits, holding (1) both the court of appeals and the Commission misstated the burden of proof on the “other work reasonably available” element of a permanent total disability claim; and (2) the court of appeals erred in reversing the Commission’s determination that Respondent was limited in her ability to do basic work activities. View "Quast v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the order of the Labor Commission denying Respondent’s application for permanent total disability benefits under Utah Code 34A-2-413, the permanent total disability portion of the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Commission denied the application based on Respondent’s failure to prove two elements of a permanent total disability claim. The Supreme Court held (1) the court of appeals erred in its interpretation of section 34A-2-413(1)(c)(ii); (2) the court of appeals misallocated the burden of proof and improperly considered information not contained in the record in reversing the Commission’s determination that Respondent failed to prove the “essential functions” element of a permanent total disability claim; and (3) the Commission correctly denied Respondent’s application for permanent total disability benefits. View "Oliver v. Utah Labor Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was seriously injured during the course of his employment with Defendant. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Defendant’s negligence caused his injuries. Defendant moved for summary judgment asserting that it was immune from suit under the exclusive remedy provision of the Utah Workers’ Compensation Act. The district court granted the motion, determining that Defendant qualified for immunity under the “eligible employer” statute. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Defendant did not “secure the payment” of workers’ compensation benefits for Plaintiff as required by the statute. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant qualified as an “eligible employer” under the workers’ compensation statutes and fulfilled all of the statutory requirements. View "Nichols v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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Brian Wade, in the course of servicing a well situated under a high voltage line owned by Flowell Electric Association and Dixie Escalante Rural Electric Association, Inc. (collectively, Flowell), came into contact with the line, resulting in serious injuries to Wade. Wade was acting on behalf of Rhodes Pump II, LLC, his employer, at the time of the accident. Wade received workers’ compensation benefits from Rhodes and also filed a tort action against Flowell. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Wade and awarded both compensatory and punitive damages. Flowell subsequently brought this action for High Voltage Overhead Lines Act (HVOLA) indemnification against Rhodes. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Flowell, concluding that Rhodes had failed to give Flowell adequate notice of its “intended activity.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Flowell timely filed its HVOLA indemnification action; (2) the Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive remedy provision does not preclude liability under the HVOLA; (3) HVOLA does not violate due process or equal protection as applied to Rhodes; and (4) a genuine issue of material fact remains regarding whether Rhodes adequately notified Flowell of its intended activity. View "Flowell Elec. Ass’n v. Rhodes Pump, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, several employees of Wal-Mart, were involved in physical confrontations with shoplifting customers and were ultimately fired for violating company policy. Plaintiffs filed this action against Wal-Mart in federal district court for wrongful termination, alleging that terminating a person’s employment for exercising self-defense in the workplace violates Utah public policy. The federal district court certified to the Supreme Court the question of whether self-defense is a substantial public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine, thus providing a basis for a wrongful termination action. The Supreme Court held that the policy favoring the right of self-defense is a public policy of sufficient clarity and weight to qualify as an exception to the at-will employment doctrine, but the exception is limited to situations where an employee reasonably believed that force was necessary to defend against an imminent threat of serious bodily harm under circumstances where he or she was unable safely to withdraw. View "Ray v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant, who worked at an oil refinery operated by Chevron U.S.A., Inc., was instructed by her immediate supervisor to add sulfuric acid to an open-air pit containing waste products from the refinery. When Appellant did so, she was injured by a poisonous gas produced by the resulting chemical reaction. Appellant received workers’ compensation benefits for her injuries. Thereafter, Appellant sued Chevron, alleging that it was liable for an intentional tort because her supervisors knew she would be injured when she was instructed to add sulfuric acid to the pit. The district court granted summary judgment for Chevron, concluding that Appellant failed to produce evidence that would support a conclusion that one of Chevron’s managers had the requisite knowledge or intent to support an intentional tort claim. The Supreme Court ruled, holding (1) there was a dispute of material fact precluding summary judgment because a reasonable jury could conclude that at least one of Chevron’s managers knew that Appellant would be injured when her supervisor instructed her to add sulfuric acid to the pit; and (2) the district court correctly ruled that the election of remedies doctrine did not bar Appellant’s suit. View "Helf v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant worked for Plaintiff, a technology company, as an engineer. During and after her employment with Plaintiff, Defendant forwarded confidential emails to her private Gmail account, copied a confidential business plan to a thumb drive, and placed protected information on the record in an administrative proceeding. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that Defendant had violated a non-disclosure agreement and misappropriated company trade secrets. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant, determining that Plaintiff had failed to make an adequate showing of harm. The court further entered Utah R. Civ. P. 11 sanctions against Plaintiff and awarded attorney fees to Defendant. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence of threatened harm - or at least genuine issues of material fact concerning such harm - to defeat Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment; and (2) because Plaintiff prevailed on Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, Defendant could not be entitled to sanctions or fees. View "Innosys v. Mercer" on Justia Law