Helf v Chevron, Inc.

Helf was injured when she poured sulfuric acid into a pit of chemicals and breathed in toxic fumes created by the reaction of the acid and chemicals. She received workers compensation benefits then sued Chevron alleging an intentional tort based on knowledge she would be injured. After remand form the Court on an earlier appeal, the district court granted summary judgment to Chevron. The Court, 4-1, reversed and remanded. The majority held that the district court properly ruled that Helf must prove at least one individual in a position of authority over her knew that pouring the acid into the pit would result in injury and collective knowledge is not enough. It held that the district court erred in excluding deposition testimony as objections to foundation or the form of questions and answers must be made at the deposition or they are waived and Chevron, who was conducting the deoposition, didn’t object here. It also held that sua sponte evidentiary ruling, like here, are reviewable as the district court had an opportunity to rule on the issue. The majority held there was a dispute as to whether the night manager who ordered Helf to pour the acid in the pit knew this would result in injury as he was told of injuries earlier the day form the same process, there was no evidence that the manger knew the person who poured the acid was not injured and Helf was inexperienced in the process. The majority held that cross appeal is improper when a party like Chevron merely seeks affirmance. It further held that the earlier appeal only dealt with the intentional tort issue and not the issue of whether accepting workers compensation benefits constitutes an election of remedy baring suit. On the merits of the election of remedies issue, the majority held that because forcing injured workers to choose between workers compensation benefits and intentional torts damages could result in harsh outcomes of no recovery or result in immunity for employers given the risk to injured workers that he could take nothing in the suit while forfeiting benefits, and noting a split of authority among state supreme courts which have rule on the issue, seeking benefits is not an irrevocable election of remedies. It also held that if Helf recovers in tort, the benefits received must be reimbursed. The dissent argued that workers compensation and the tort claim are separate remedies, that Helf elected to seek benefits, should be held to that election and it is fair to do so It also argued that only objections which require reformulating a questions are waived by not raising them, attorneys should not be required to object to their own witnesses testimony to preserve motions to strike and the majority’s approach will burden the deposition process with objections and rehabilitation questioning.