Pittman v. W. Eng'g Co.

Citation283 Neb. 913,813 N.W.2d 487
Decision Date25 May 2012
Docket NumberNo. S–11–584.,S–11–584.
PartiesDavid PITTMAN, appellant, v. WESTERN ENGINEERING COMPANY, INC., and Evert Falkena, appellees.
CourtSupreme Court of Nebraska

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Syllabus by the Court

[283 Neb. 913]1. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. An appellate court will affirm a lower court's granting of summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

2. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. In reviewing a summary judgment, an appellate court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted, and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence.

3. Statutes. Statutory interpretation presents a question of law.

4. Appeal and Error. An appellate court resolves questions of law independently of the trial court.

5. Statutes: Appeal and Error. In examining the language of a statute, its language is to be given its plain and ordinary meaning, and an appellate court will not resort to interpretation to ascertain the meaning of statutory words which are plain, direct, and unambiguous.

6. Statutes: Appeal and Error. The rules of statutory interpretation require an appellate court to give effect to the entire language of a statute, and to reconcile different provisions of the statute so that they are consistent, harmonious, and sensible.

7. Statutes: Legislature: Intent: Appeal and Error. In construing a statute, an appellate court's objective is to determine and give effect to the legislative intent of the enactment.

8. Statutes: Legislature: Intent. Components of a series or collection of statutes pertaining to a certain subject matter are in pari materia and should be conjunctively considered and construed to determine the intent of the Legislature, so that different provisions are consistent, harmonious, and sensible.

9. Statutes: Legislature: Presumptions: Judicial Construction. In determining the meaning of a statute, the applicable rule is that when the Legislature enacts a law affecting an area which is already the subject of other statutes, it is presumed that it did so with full knowledge of the preexisting legislation and the decisions of the Supreme Court construing and applying that legislation.

Robert O. Hippe, of Robert Pahlke Law Group, P.C., L.L.O., Scottsbluff, for appellant.

Dean J. Sitzmann and Krista M. Carlson, of Wolfe, Snowden, Hurd, Luers & Ahl, L.L.P., Lincoln, for appellees.

HEAVICAN, C.J., WRIGHT, CONNOLLY, STEPHAN, McCORMACK, and MILLER–LERMAN, JJ.

MILLER–LERMAN, J.

NATURE OF CASE

David Pittman, the appellant, brought a negligence action against Western EngineeringCompany, Inc. (Western), and Evert Falkena (collectively, the appellees) in the district court for Lincoln County. The case stems from the death of David's wife, Robin Pittman, who died in a work-related accident while working for Western on a road construction crew. David's sole theory of liability is bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress. In considering the appellees' motion for summary judgment, the district court determined, inter alia, that David's action was barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act and dismissed David's complaint with prejudice. David appeals.

We conclude that David's negligence action is barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act. David accepted payment, thereby releasing Western, and his action against Western is barred by operation of Neb.Rev.Stat. § 48–148 (Reissue 2010); this employer immunity extends to Falkena, a fellow employee of Robin, under Neb.Rev.Stat. § 48–111 (Reissue 2010). We affirm the district court's order which granted summary judgment in favor of the appellees and dismissed the action.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

On September 8, 2009, Robin was working as an employee of Western doing road construction on a project resurfacing Interstate 80 near Chappell, Nebraska. One of Western's semi-trailer trucks was hauling material for work on the project, when the left dual wheels of the sixth axle on the trailer broke loose from the left back axle of the trailer. The dual wheels rolled down the center median of the Interstate, where they struck and killed Robin. Falkena worked for Western and is alleged to have negligently maintained the semi-trailer truck. The parties agree that at the time of her death, Robin was acting in the scope of her employment, and that Robin's death arose out of, and in the course of, her employment with Western.

David was located less than a mile away when he was notified to go to the scene of the accident. David also worked for Western. David arrived at the scene shortly after the accident and saw that Robin was dead. In his complaint, David alleges that the fatal injuries to Robin caused immediate and extreme mental anguish and shock to David and caused emotional distress to David so severe that no reasonable person should be expected to endure it.

David accepted workers' compensation payments as Robin's surviving spouse and dependent. Western and its insurance carrier paid David, as Robin's dependent, weekly death benefits of $602.32. Western also paid $6,000 in burial expenses. After David had received death benefits for approximately 38 weeks, Western, Western's insurer, and David filed in the Workers' Compensation Court an Application for an Order Approving Lump Sum Settlement and Release.” The application stated that Western and its insurer would pay a lump sum of $400,000 to David and that David would no longer receive workers' compensation death benefits by reason of the death of Robin. The application further stated that David could decline the settlement and proceed to trial. The application stated that upon payment of the $400,000, the parties agreed Western and its insurer would be “fully discharged from all further liability under the Nebraska Workers' Compensation laws, as amended[,] on account of the fatal accident of 9/8/2009 to Robin ..., and shall be entitled to a duly executed release.”

In its June 28, 2010, order, the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Court approved the parties' application, finding that the application was in conformity with the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act. The court stated that Western and its insurer were to pay David $400,000, as described in the application, and that Western and its insurer were ordered “discharged from all further liability on account of the accident and injuries of 9/8/2009.”

David subsequently brought this negligence case against the appellees in district court. He alleged bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress against Western, based upon his shock upon arrival at the scene of the accident, where he saw Robin's body. See Catron v. Lewis, 271 Neb. 416, 712 N.W.2d 245 (2006) (describing bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress). David sought damages for emotional injuries from Western; he also alleged that Falkena was negligent in relation to the accident and sought damages therefor. David did not allege that he suffered any physical injury. David asks for no damages for loss of financial support, services, comfort, or companionship due to the death of Robin. The sole basis for his claim is common-law negligence.

The appellees filed a motion for summary judgment, and a hearing was held on June 6, 2011. In its “Journal Entry and Order” filed June 13, from which this appeal is taken, the district court determined that the cause of action set forth in the complaint was barred by the exclusivity provisions in the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act. Accordingly, the district court dismissed David's complaint with prejudice.

The district court also stated that the lump-sum settlement which David entered into with Western and its insurer constituted a full and final release of all claims or causes of action which David sustained by reason of the death of Robin. Therefore, the court additionally determined that the “Settlement and Release” barred David's claim. The court again determined to dismiss David's complaint with prejudice.

The district court also commented on whether David's claim was derivative of Robin's injuries and indicated that

[i]f [the] Court is incorrect in its analysis of the exclusivity rule under the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act, or the release and lump sum settlement filed by [David] in the Workers' Compensation Court, then there is still the issue of whether the fellow servant rule bars the cause of action alleged by [David and] there are genuine issues of material fact [regarding the source of duty owed David].

Given these comments, the court stated that if it was incorrect in its conclusion that David's action was barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act, speaking hypothetically, it would not be able to enter summary judgment in favor of the appellees and against David. Nevertheless, the action was dismissed.

David appeals.

ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

David generally claims, restated and summarized, that the district court erred when it sustained the appellees' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. David claims in particular that the district court erred when it concluded that the exclusivity provisions of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act bar David's negligence claim filed in district court and when it additionally determined that David released the appellees from his negligence claim of bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress when he accepted the lump-sum settlement representing the dependent's benefits from the death of Robin under the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act. David also assigns error to the district court's further comments in which it considered whether bystander negligent...

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