CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON AUGUST 29, 2016
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE JANE WIPF
MICHAEL J. SIMPSON of Julius & Simpson, LLP Rapid City,
South Dakota and MICHAEL ABOUREZK of Abourezk Law Firm, PC
Rapid City, South Dakota Attorneys for appellant.
WILLIAM C. GARRY MELISSA R. JELEN of Cadwell, Sanford,
Deibert & Garry LLP Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys
GILBERTSON, Chief Justice
James "Jake" Mordhorst sued Dakota Truck
Underwriters and Risk Administration Services (collectively,
"Insurers"), alleging they denied him workers'
compensation benefits in bad faith. Insurers moved to
dismiss, arguing Mordhorst failed to state a claim upon which
relief could be granted. The circuit court granted
Insurers' motion, and Mordhorst appeals. We reverse and
remand for further proceedings.
and Procedural History
Twenty-year-old Mordhorst worked for Fischer Furniture in
Rapid City. While making a delivery on November 10, 2011, a
275-pound sofa fell off the back of a delivery truck and
struck Mordhorst on the head and shoulders. The force of the
impact knocked Mordhorst to the ground, temporarily rendering
Mordhorst sought medical treatment the following day.
According to Mordhorst's amended complaint in this case,
two physicians and multiple physical therapists documented
his resulting condition. Mordhorst reported pain in his back
and neck, and an MRI revealed a herniated disk in his back.
His medical providers also noted that he presented with a
"head forward" posture, which indicates an attempt
to compensate for back pain.
On October 11, 2012, at Insurers' request, Mordhorst met
with Dr. Nolan Segal, an independent medical examiner
("IME"). Dr. Segal concluded that the only injury
Mordhorst sustained from the falling sofa was a
"strain" that resolved 18 days after the accident.
According to Dr. Segal's report, Mordhorst's
subjective complaints were not supported by objective
On October 16, 2012, subsequent to Dr. Segal's report,
Insurers terminated all workers' compensation benefits.
On March 14, 2014, Mordhorst requested a hearing before the
South Dakota Department of Labor in order to restore payments
for medical treatment and medications. Insurers denied
responsibility for coverage, but the Department disagreed. On
May 8, 2015, the Department ordered Insurers to pay all past
medical bills and interest as well as future medical
expenses. Insurers did not appeal the Department's
Mordhorst subsequently filed an action in circuit court
seeking punitive damages for what he alleges was a bad-faith
denial of workers' compensation benefits. Insurers moved
for dismissal, arguing Mordhorst failed to state a cause of
action upon which relief could be granted, and the circuit
court granted the motion.
Mordhorst appeals, raising one issue: Whether the circuit
court erred by granting Insurers' motion to dismiss.