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Mordhorst v. Dakota Truck Underwriters

Supreme Court of South Dakota

September 28, 2016

JAMES "JAKE" MORDHORST, Appellant,
v.
DAKOTA TRUCK UNDERWRITERS and RISK ADMINISTRATION SERVICES, Appellees.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON AUGUST 29, 2016

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE JANE WIPF PFEIFLE Judge

          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 for appellees.

          GILBERTSON, Chief Justice

         [¶1.] 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.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2.] 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 him unconscious.

         [¶3.] 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.

         [¶4.] 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 findings.

         [¶5.] 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 decision.

         [¶6.] 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.

         [¶7.] Mordhorst appeals, raising one issue: Whether the circuit court erred by granting Insurers' motion to dismiss.

         Standard ...


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