Submitted on Briefs: October 12, 2016
Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County
of Missoula, Cause No. DV 10-1115 Honorable Robert L.
Deschamps, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Rex Palmer, Attorneys Inc., P.C., Missoula,
Appellees: Gerry Fagan, Moulton Bellingham PC, Billings,
Patricia Cotter, Justice
Charlotte Suzor injured her knees in a workplace accident in
1982, and her knees have been prone to giving out
unpredictably ever since. She settled her workers'
compensation claims in 1987 with her self-insured employer,
Champion International Corporation, but reserved the right to
seek future medical benefits for ongoing complications from
her injury. In 2009, Suzor fell and broke her hip after her
knees gave out. Her physician filed a claim with Sedgwick
Claims Management Services, Inc. (Sedgwick), the third-party
administrator for the workers' compensation plan now
funded by her employer's successor in interest,
International Paper Company. Sedgwick initially denied the
claim, leading Suzor to sue International Paper Company,
Sedgwick, and two of Sedgwick's employees (collectively,
the "Appellees") for bad faith and breach of
fiduciary duty. Following a jury trial in the Fourth Judicial
District Court, Missoula County, judgment was entered in
favor of the Appellees. Suzor timely appealed. We affirm.
We address the following issues on appeal:
the Appellees owe Suzor a fiduciary duty?
the District Court abuse its discretion in denying
Suzor's jury instruction on causation?
the mistaken association of the wrong juror questionnaire
with a juror a structural error that necessitates a new
the jury's award of no damages supported by sufficient
the District Court abuse its discretion in its award of
In 1982, Suzor injured her knees while working for Champion
International. At the time of her injury, Champion
International self-insured its workers' compensation
liability. Suzor eventually settled her workers'
compensation claim, reserving the right to be reimbursed for
all medical treatment that would result from her injury. At
some point after her injury, International Paper bought
Champion International and assumed its outstanding
workers' compensation obligations. International Paper
contracted with Sedgwick to handle workers' compensation
claims as a third-party administrator.
¶4 In the spring of 2009, Suzor fell and fractured her
hip while getting into her pickup truck. According to her
orthopedist, Dr. Michael Woods, the patellectomy Suzor
underwent to treat her prior injury had made her knees
unstable, and that instability was the cause of the fall that
broke her hip. Under the terms of her workers'
compensation settlement, Suzor was entitled to medical
benefits for the broken hip, as it was a consequence of her
Suzor made an appointment with Dr. Woods for April 23, 2009.
The day after her appointment, Woods initiated a worker's
compensation claim by requesting authorization for an MRI.
Cindy Berglind-Grooms, a claims adjustor at Sedgwick, fielded
the request and denied it the same day. Suzor visited Dr.
Woods again on May 4, and Dr. Woods sent his notes from that
appointment to Sedgwick to substantiate the claim. Sedgwick
again denied the claim, concluding that it was "not
related to the original claim."
Suzor met with Dr. Woods again on May 18. At that
appointment, Suzor indicated the pain medication Dr. Woods
had prescribed was working. Suzor and Dr. Woods chose to wait
and see how the hip would heal, and scheduled another
appointment to reevaluate her progress in June. According to
Dr. Woods' notes from the June appointment, Suzor and Dr.
Woods decided to give the hip another month of healing
without surgery, even though Suzor was feeling worse. Suzor
met with Dr. Woods once more on July 9, 2009, and the
treatment notes from that appointment indicate Suzor and Dr.
Woods decided to pursue surgery instead of waiting for the
hip to heal.
By August, Suzor had hired an attorney who wrote to
Berglind-Grooms, asking her to reconsider the denial. On
August 19, Sedgwick accepted the claim. The next day, Suzor
underwent a pre-operative physical to prepare for hip
surgery. Although the surgery was scheduled for August 26,
Suzor postponed the operation due to a family emergency. On
September 16, 2009, Suzor underwent surgery for her broken
hip, and Sedgwick approved payment for all of Suzor's
visits with Dr. Woods, and for the surgery.
Suzor filed suit on August 18, 2010, to recover damages for
the Appellees' alleged breach of a fiduciary duty and bad
faith. Suzor claimed that the initial denial of her medical
benefits resulted in months of pain and suffering while she
waited for Sedgwick to approve her surgery. Suzor joined as
defendants Sedgwick, International Paper, Berglind-Grooms,
and Dorothy Scott, a claims adjuster and Berglind-Grooms'
supervisor at Sedgwick.
During discovery, Suzor requested production of contracts
among Sedgwick, International Paper and Champion
International, as well as financial and tax information from
each defendant. When the Appellees objected to production of
the requested documents, Suzor filed a motion to compel
discovery. On April 17, 2014, the District Court granted the
motion in part and ordered the Appellees to turn over the
requested contracts, but denied without prejudice Suzor's
demand for tax and ...