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Teeter v. Mid-Century Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Montana

November 28, 2017

JENNIFER TEETER, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
MID-CENTURY INSURANCE COMPANY, a Stock Insurance Company, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 25, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twenty-First Judicial District, In and For the County of Ravalli, Cause No. DV 2015-53 Honorable James A. Haynes, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: James D. Johnson, Williams Law Firm, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Jeffrey B. Hays, Hays & Hayes, P.L.L.P., Hamilton, Montana

          OPINION

          Michael E Wheat Justice.

         ¶1 Mid-Century Insurance Company (Mid-Century) appeals the Opinion and Order of the Twenty-First Judicial District Court, Ravalli County, granting Jennifer Teeter's (Teeter) motion for summary judgment. We reverse and remand.

         ¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

Whether the District Court erred in granting Teeter's motion for summary judgment under §§ 33-18-201(6) and (13), MCA, concluding that no disputed issues of material fact existed regarding causation and damages.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 This case arises from a motor vehicle accident in Missoula, Montana, on May 30, 2014. Derek Colberg (Colberg) rear-ended Plaintiff Teeter's vehicle on Brooks Street. Mid-Century insured Colberg. The officer who arrived at the scene concluded Colberg was responsible for the crash and cited him for careless driving.

         ¶4 Later that day, Teeter sought medical treatment for possible injuries from the crash. The treating physician diagnosed Teeter with whiplash and a right shoulder strain. Following her diagnosis, Teeter saw several health care professionals to treat her physical and psychological injuries including a chiropractor, neurologist, physical therapist, counselor, and masseuse.

         ¶5 Immediately after the accident Teeter retained counsel demanding advance payment of medical costs from Mid-Century. Mid-Century determined its insured Colberg was responsible for the accident and made several advance payments to Teeter for her medical expenses and lost wages. Mid-Century paid in advance $53, 347.97 from May 30, 2014, until December 2014. In November 2014, Mid-Century sought Teeter's past medical records and asked Teeter to undergo an independent medical examination (IME) to determine if the ongoing medical expenses were related to the accident. Teeter refused both requests. In December, Mid-Century had Dr. Lennard Wilson conduct a records review of Teeter's post-accident medical records. Mid-Century discontinued Teeter's advance payments based on Dr. Wilson's opinion that Teeter's ongoing expenses were no longer causally related to the accident.

         ¶6 On February 17, 2015, Teeter filed a declaratory action against Mid-Century seeking payment of medical expenses and lost wages incurred after December 16, 2014. During discovery, Mid-Century obtained two IMEs of Teeter. The first IME was with forensic psychiatrist Dr. William Stratford on March 15 and 16, 2016. Dr. Stratford concluded that Teeter's symptoms were almost entirely a psychological issue. The second IME was with board-certified orthopedist Dr. Emily Heid on March 22, 2016. Dr. Heid determined that there was no physiological basis for Teeter's pain complaints.

         ¶7 On June 23, 2016, Teeter filed her motion for summary judgment arguing that there is no dispute of material facts that Colberg's liability is reasonably clear and that Teeter's medical expenses and lost wages were causally related to the accident. The following day, Mid-Century filed its own motion for summary judgment.[1] Mid-Century argued that the opinions of Dr. Wilson, Dr. Heid, and Dr. Stratford (collectively, the Doctors) provided objective evidence establishing a reasonable debate regarding whether Teeter's ongoing medical expenses and wage losses were causally related to the accident. ...


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