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Jury trial needed despite stipulation to facts

Even though defendants, for purposes of their plea in bar, have offered to stipulate to all the facts plaintiff has pleaded in the complaint, this is not a basis to deny plaintiff’s request for a jury trial. A jury will be needed to resolve factual disputes that have a bearing on whether this personal injury claim belongs in the circuit court or the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Overview

Plaintiff is the estate of the decedent, Carl Sparks. Plaintiff alleges that the decedent sought care from a nurse, also known as a safety manager, hired by defendants to provide medical care at a worksite. Plaintiff alleges that as a result of the safety manager’s negligence, the decedent suffered a fatal heart attack.

Defendants have filed a plea in bar, in which they argue that the Workers’ Compensation Commission, rather than the circuit court, has jurisdiction over the matter. Defendants have also moved to suspend discovery pending a ruling on the plea in bar. Plaintiff has requested a jury trial in this matter.

Discussion

“Where there is no disputed fact at issue and only one conclusion from those facts may be drawn by reasonable people, the court must rule as a matter of law, and no party is entitled to a jury.” Defendants say they will stipulate to every fact plaintiff has pleaded in the complaint. This, according to defendants, “should eliminate every possible factual issue that could come into dispute during the plea at bar hearing, thus, obviating the need for a jury. Even giving these concessions, however , a jury trial will be required to resolve issues of fact.”

The parties appear to disagree on the meaning of the word “encouraged.” Plaintiff alleges in the complaint that defendant’s employees “had long been encouraged to report to the safety managers for any health care needs.” The Virginia Supreme Court “has indicated” that a factor in determining whether a case belongs in circuit court or the Workers’ Compensation Commission is “whether an employer required its employees to receive treatment at its medical facilities.”

The parties also dispute “whether treatment by another party would have exposed the decedent to the same injury risks. This is an issue discussed in the case law that could factor into the question at hand. For example, could the Decedent have chosen to leave work and seek outside medical care either before or after he sought treatment from the safety manager?” The complaint does not deal with this issue, and plaintiff asserts that testimony will be needed to resolve this.

As a general matter, a pleading provides notice of the claims the parties will raise at trial. But notice pleading cannot possibly allege every factual dispute that may come up at trial, “nor should it.”

Even if defendants stipulate to every fact in the complaint, believing that they are thus entitled to judgment as a matter of law, “it is simply to soon to say that no dispute of fact could arise out of the hearing.” Moreover, a party cannot unilaterally limit another party’s evidence “except in the case of a demurrer.”

Plaintiff’s request for a jury trial is granted. Defendants’ motion to suspend discovery is denied.

Sparks v. New Millennium Building Systems, et al. Case No. CL-18-386, Nov. 28, 2018; Roanoke Cir. Ct. (Dorsey). T. Daniel Frith III, Lauren M. Ellerman, Thomas D. Frith IV for Plaintiff; Mark E. GiaQuinta, Mark D. Loftis for Defendants. VLW 018-8-115, 4 pp.

VLW 018-8-115