Legal Decisions

Tenas v. Progressive Preferred Ins. Co., 347 Mont. 133 (2008)
Montana Supreme Court held that Nevada choice of law provision applied to the insurance contract and therefore stacking was not appropriate under Montana law. Though Duckworth Law received an unfavorable result in this case, this decision has been criticized in a recent Trial Trends article by Professor Greg Munro titled Auto Policy Conflicts of Law in Montana.

Hardy v. Progressive, 315 Mont. 107 (2003)
The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana certified a question to the Montana Supreme Court. In a groundbreaking decision for Montana automobile insurance law, the Court declared the Montana anti-stacking statute unconstitutional. The Montana Supreme Court additionally held that: (1) the offset provision in the insurance agreement violated public policy; (2) the anti-stacking provision was against public policy and a statute, to the extent that it allowed charging premiums for illusory coverage, was unconstitutional; and (3) policies, under which an insurer received consideration for coverage, that contained provisions that defeated that coverage were against public policy.

Bartell v. American Home Assur. Co., 310 Mont. 276 (2002)
Salish Kootenai College purchased a semi-trailer without wheels for use as a storage container. Bartell, an employee of the college, was crushed by the semi-trailer as it was moved or pushed into position by forklifts. The college’s liability policy did not provide for the bodily injury suffered by the employee. However, the employee’s own automobile insurance policy issued by defendant insurer included uninsured motorists coverage. The policy provided further that “uninsured motor vehicle” did not include any vehicle or equipment owned by any governmental unit or agency. The United States district court initially concluded that since the uninsured vehicle, the semi-trailer, was owned by a tribal governmental agency, the government-owned exclusion defeated the uninsured motorist coverage. After receiving additional briefing on the government-owned exclusion, the United States District Court certified a question to the Montana Supreme Court. The supreme court held that an automobile policy issued in the State of Montana with respect to a motor vehicle registered and maintained in Montana that provided that any vehicle or equipment owned by any governmental unit or agency could not be an uninsured motor vehicle violated the statutory law and the public policy of Montana.

Ike v. Jefferson Nat. Life Ins. Co, 267 Mont. 396 (1994)
The plaintiff died of pulmonary aspiration while allegedly intoxicated and his estate filed a claim for accidental death benefits. The insurer denied the claim and Duckworth Law filed suit against the insurer. The plaintiff was awarded accidental death benefits by the Lake County District court. The insurance company appealed to the Montana Supreme Court. After hearing oral argument, the Supreme Court affirmed the District Court’s decision to award benefits to the plaintiff.

Oakland v. Wolf , 258 Mont. 35 (1993)
Duckworth Law Office represented Debra Okland, mother of eight year old Bernie Okland who was injured when he was struck by a car. In the guardian’s action the jury returned a verdict, finding that both the driver and the child were negligent and that each was 50 percent responsible for the collision. On appeal, among the driver’s contentions was that the district court erred when it denied his motions for summary judgment, a directed verdict, and judgment notwithstanding the verdict based on the sufficiency of the evidence. The court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that the driver was negligent by failing to keep a proper lookout and have his vehicle under sufficient control to avoid his collision with the child. The driver also contended that an inadvertent instruction read to the jury was a misstatement of the law, and that he was prejudiced as a result. The court found that the driver had not objected to the district court’s solution for dealing with the mistake, but instead chose to submit his case to the jury based on the posture that it was in. The driver was, therefore, precluded from requesting relief in the nature of a mistrial for the first time on appeal after receiving a verdict from the jury that he considered adverse. The verdict awarding the Oklands damages was upheld.

Thornock v. State of Montana, 229 Mont. 67 (1987)
Man was injured while removing a block of wood jammed in a conveyor belt. The Supreme Court found that the state’s duty to inspect was superseded by federal regulations.

Bartell v. State of Montana, 1985 Mont. Lexis 672 (1985)
Bartell struck a traffic island with a motorcycle, lost control, and was thrown to the side of the highway. A blood-alcohol test indicated an illegal level. The district court found that if the injured party had been driving in a reasonably careful and prudent manner and not under the influence of alcohol, he could have easily avoided the collision with the traffic island. Any deficiencies in the highway design, signing, or maintenance were not found to be a cause of the accident. The Montana Supreme Court affirmed on rehearing.

9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals

Webster v. United States of America, 22 F.3d 221 (1994)
The decedent was killed at Mission Valley Speedway, located on property held by the government in trust for two tribes, who had leased the property to the speedway owner with the approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The estate representative alleged that the government was negligent in allowing the lease of the land for use as a speedway when the speedway was not safely barricaded, constructed or designed. The court held that the representative’s suit was barred by the discretionary function exception to the FTCA The court further held that whether the BIA was negligent under state law in approving the lease or failing to monitor it was irrelevant.

Thornock v. Washington Insurance Guaranty Assoc., 942 F.2d 794 (1991)
Duckworth Law Office represented Thornock who had reached a settlement agreement with an insurance company that subsequently became insolvent. Appellant insurer challenged the part of the order requiring it to honor a settlement agreement between Thornock and another insurance company before the other insurance company was declared insolvent. The court affirmed the order that appellant was obligated to pay Thornock under the settlement agreement and reversed the order that appellant did not have to pay interest. The court held that Thornock was entitled to interest because the action could not be classified as an action that did not arise from a breach of contract. The court concluded that because the obligation to pay the settlement agreement arose out of the insurance policy, it was a covered claim that was binding upon appellant.


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