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Maravilla v. J.R. Simplot Co.

Supreme Court of Idaho

December 30, 2016

JOSEPH JERRY MARAVILLA, Claimant-Respondent-Cross Appellant,
v.
J.R. SIMPLOT COMPANY, Self-Insured Employer, Defendant-Appellant-Cross Respondent.

         2016 Opinion No. 158

         Appeal from the Industrial Commission.

         The order of the Industrial Commission is affirmed in part and reversed in part.

          Ludwig Shoufler Miller Johnson, LLP, Boise, for appellant. Daniel A. Miller argued.

          Racine, Olson, Nye, Budge & Bailey, Chtd., Pocatello, for respondent. Fred J. Lewis argued.

          BURDICK, Justice

         I. NATURE OF THE CASE

         Joseph Jerry Maravilla and J.R. Simplot Company both appeal the Industrial Commission's (Commission) August 11, 2015 Order on Petition for Declaratory Ruling. Maravilla was injured in an industrial accident while working for Simplot, and Simplot paid Maravilla's worker's compensation benefits for that injury. In a separate action, Maravilla brought suit against Idaho Industrial Contractors, Inc. (IIC), the contractor performing repairs on the area where Maravilla was injured. Maravilla and IIC settled the claim for $75, 000 and Simplot claimed subrogation against Maravilla. In its order, the Commission ruled that Maravilla could argue that Simplot was partly at fault for Maravilla's industrial accident and that Simplot's negligence, if proved, was not a bar to Simplot being reimbursed for worker's compensation payments it had paid Maravilla.

         Simplot appeals the Commission's decision that Maravilla's settlement with IIC does not preclude Maravilla from attempting to prove Simplot's negligence. Maravilla appeals the Commission's ruling that Simplot is entitled to reimbursement even if Simplot's negligence contributed to Maravilla's injury. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 16, 2011, Maravilla, while working at Simplot, tripped on a hose that had been placed across a walkway to transport a water/acid mix to a nearby pump. The water/acid mixture was being transported because repairs were being performed on a nearby sulfuric acid pad. The repairs were being performed by IIC, however, the hose had been placed by Simplot. On the day of the accident, a rainstorm had caused a power outage at the sulfuric acid pad causing acid to pool on the pad. Upon tripping, Maravilla's foot went through a plastic barrier erected by IIC and into the pooling acid. Maravilla suffered chemical burns to his right foot and leg, which later required skin grafts and surgery. Maravilla then filed a worker's compensation claim. Simplot, in its capacity as a self-insured employer, paid out an undisclosed amount of worker's compensation benefits.

         On February 6, 2013, Maravilla filed a third-party lawsuit against IIC. Maravilla alleged that his injuries were caused by the negligence of IIC. Simplot did not participate in this litigation. At some point before trial, Maravilla and IIC settled the claim for $75, 000. The district court then dismissed the complaint with prejudice on January 22, 2015. Thereafter, Simplot sought subrogation against the $75, 000 settlement.

         On May 1, 2015, Maravilla filed a petition for declaratory ruling with the Commission. Maravilla contended that in accordance with prior precedent, any negligence on the part of an employer cuts off that employer's right to subrogation under Idaho Code section 72-223. Simplot argued that as a result of Idaho's adoption of comparative fault, an employer's right to subrogation continues to exist even if the employer is shown to have been partly at fault in contributing to the employee's injury. Simplot also argued that Maravilla was precluded from arguing Simplot's negligence because he failed to do so during the third-party litigation with IIC.

         On August 11, 2015, the Commission issued its order. The Commission rejected Simplot's claim preclusion argument but adopted a new rule regarding employer's subrogation rights. The new rule, based on the fact that joint and several liability has been abolished in Idaho, states that "employer's negligence is no longer an absolute bar to the exercise of its right of subrogation. Rather, an employer's right of subrogation will be reduced by its proportionate share of fault in contributing to claimant's damages."

         Simplot timely appeals from the Commission's order with respect to the claim preclusion issue. Maravilla cross-appeals with respect to the Commission's adoption of the new employer negligence rule.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The facts pertinent to this appeal are not in dispute, only the legal conclusions drawn from those facts, therefore, we exercise free review. Kelly v. Blue Ribbon Linen Supply, Inc., 159 Idaho 324, 326, 360 P.3d 333, 335 (2015).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Maravilla is not barred from raising the issue of Simplot's ...


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