Phillip R. Wulf, a 2014 graduate of the University of Wyoming College of Law, formerly associated with the law firm of MacPherson, Kelly & Thompson in Rawlins, joined Murane & Bostwick’s Casper office November, 2016. Phillip received a B.S. degree in Chemistry in 2009 from the U of U. While in Law School, he was a member of the University of Wyoming’s Jay Reuben Clark Law Society. In addition to the membership in the Wyoming State Bar, Phillip is also a member of the Colorado State Bar. Phillip’s full profile can be found on our Attorney Profiles page.
Peer Review Ratings
U.S. News and World Report and Best Lawyers have announced the 2016 Best Law Firms rankings, listing Murane & Bostwick, LLC for the sixth consecutive year. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one lawyer listed in The Best Lawyers in America (Murane & Bostwick currently has four) which recognizes the top 4 percent of practicing attorneys in the United States. The Casper, WY office is recognized in the fields of Commercial Litigation, Medical Malpractice Law and Personal Injury Litigation – Defendants. The Cheyenne, WY office is recognized in the fields of Litigation – Labor & Employment and Personal Injury Litigation – Defendants.
Several Murane & Bostwick attorneys have been selected by their peers as “Best Lawyers,” “Super Lawyers” and “ Super Lawyers Rising Stars.” First published in 1983, Best Lawyers is the oldest peer review publication in the legal profession, and is universally regarded as a definitive guide to legal excellence. More recently established, but also highly regarded by the legal profession and those seeking top quality legal representation, “Super Lawyers” selects established attorneys in more than 70 practice areas through peer nomination and review. We are proud to present those Murane & Bostwick attorneys who have been selected by their peers to Best Lawyers, (“BL”) and Super Lawyers (“SL”).
James R. Bell:
BL: Commercial Litigation; Insurance Law; Litigation-Insurance
SL: Business; Corporate Law; Insurance
W. Henry Combs III:
BL: Medical Malpractice Law – Defendants; Personal Injury Litigation – Defendants
SL: Medical Malpractice – Defendants; Professional Liability – Defendants; Personal Injury (General) – Defendants
Loyd E. Smith:
BL: Labor and Employment – Litigation; Insurance Litigation; Product Liability Litigation – Defendants
SL: Personal Injury (General) – Defense; Transportation; Business Litigation
James C. Worthen:
SL: Employment Litigation; Insurance Coverage – Defense
Judgment in favor of Plaintiff on establishment of a private road after bench trial
Doris M. McMurry, Trustee v. Eastgate Ranch, Civil No. 099421, Seventh Judicial District, Natrona County, Wyoming.
Judgment in favor of Defendant on breach of contract claim after bench trial
Murane & Bostwick attorney James Bell, successfully defended a contractor in a breach of contract suit in Wyoming state district court in Pinedale, Wyoming. The plaintiff and defendant had been in a working relationship for a number of years on several construction projects. One particular project involved road construction work. Near the end of the project the parties had a falling out. As a result, the parties met over a two day period, discussed items which each was responsible for and entered into a written agreement regarding their remaining obligations to each other. After payment was made by the defendant in accordance with their agreement, the plaintiff made further claims related to their business relationship and demanded more money. The defendant refused to pay and suit was commenced. The defense argued that the parties met and reached an agreement related to all claims which each party had. The plaintiff contended that the agreement did not include all claims. After a three day bench trial the court entered judgment in favor of the defendant, concluding that the parties’ agreement did settle all claims and that plaintiff was not entitled to any further monies.
Charken v. JBG, civil no. 8388, Ninth Judicial District, Sublette County, Wyoming.
Summary Judgment for defendant in tax deed suit
On motion by Murane & Bostwick attorneys James Bell and Phillip Wulf, Wyoming state district court in Sweetwater County, Wyoming ruled that improper notice provided to the defendant caused a tax deed issued to the plaintiff by Sweetwater County to be invalid and void. The court awarded summary judgment to the defendant.
Plaintiff purchased property in Green River, Wyoming at a tax sale. Defendant, a lender, held a valid mortgage on the property. The property was not redeemed after the tax sale by the owner. After waiting the statutorily required four years after the tax sale, the plaintiff proceeded to obtain a tax deed from the county. Under the Wyoming tax statutes plaintiff was required to give specific notice to both the owner and to the defendant. The statutes required that the owner be personally served with notice. The plaintiff did not serve the owner personally with the required notice. In addition, the notice required plaintiff to state when the redemption period would expire and to provide a date when the tax deed would be applied for. When the plaintiff prepared the notice it stated that the redemption period had already expired, when it had not. The evidence was undisputed that the defendant received the notice as did the owner. Neither party redeemed and a tax deed was issued by the county.
After plaintiff received the deed he brought a quiet title suit against the owner and the defendant, requesting that the court declare that the tax deed was valid and quieting title in him. The owner defaulted and judgment was entered against him. The defendant counterclaimed, asserting that the notice was defective and requested that the court declare the tax deed void.
Both parties moved for summary judgment after some discovery. The court held that the tax deed was void. Wyoming law requires strict compliance with the statutory notice requirements. The court reasoned that the notice to both the owner and the defendant was not in compliance with Wyoming law. Since the notice did not strictly comply with the requirements of the statute, the resulting tax deed was invalid and void. The court awarded summary judgment to defendant. The case is now on appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Montierth v. Deutsche Bank, civil no. 13-369-L, Third Judicial District, Sweetwater County, Wyoming; Wyoming Supreme Court case no. S-17-0212.
Defense Verdict for Surgeon in Medical Malpractice Case
Murane & Bostwick attorneys Andy Sears and Hank Combs, along with paralegal Amy Wyatt, successfully defended a surgeon in a wrongful death-medical malpractice case tried to a jury in the Wyoming State District Court in Jackson, WY. The decedent was admitted to the hospital with a retroperitoneal hematoma after slipping and falling at his home. Treating the internal bleed was complicated by the fact that he had been taking blood thinners chronically for a clotting disorder that had caused him life threatening deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms in the past. The surgeon discontinued the blood thinners in order to allow the internal bleed to heal, monitored his patient closely, and restarted the blood thinners as soon as was reasonably possible to avoid a repeat deep vein thrombosis/pulmonary embolism.
After several days in the hospital, the decedent announced that he was going home whether or not the surgeon agreed. The surgeon spoke with his patient and ultimately determined that he understood the risks associated with leaving the hospital. The surgeon felt it was reasonably safe to discharge the decedent so long as somebody stayed with him at his home. His patient reassured him that he had a support group. Unfortunately, the decedent returned home alone. Tragically, he fell in his kitchen and died sometime thereafter.
The Plaintiff (the decedent’s estate) argued at trial that the surgeon was negligent for discharging the decedent to home on blood thinning medication. The Defense established that the blood thinning medication was absolutely necessary in order to prevent a life threatening deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. In addition, the decedent was a long time pharmacist and understood the risks associated with his medications and staying home alone. The Defense argued that the decedent made an informed decision to return home after consultation with his surgeon.
Following six days of trial, and after approximately three hours of deliberation, the jury found that the surgeon was not negligent. Estate of Holcomb v. Parker, M.D., Civil No. 16784. District Court of the Ninth Judicial District, Teton County, WY.
Defense Verdict for Radiologist in Medical Malpractice Case
Murane & Bostwick attorneys Andy Sears and Hank Combs, along with paralegal Amy Wyatt, successfully defended a radiologist in a medical malpractice case tried before a jury in the Wyoming State District Court in Cody, WY. The Plaintiff alleged that the radiologist failed to obtain informed consent before placing a PICC line (which is a similar too but more complex than an I.V.), and that a topical spray called Benzoin was used to help secure the outside of the PICC line to the Plaintiff’s arm. The Plaintiff contended that he had a known allergy to Benzoin, and as a result of its use he developed contact dermatitis and neurologic damage after the PICC line was placed.
The Defense established that while the Plaintiff may have had an adverse reaction (which is different than an allergic reaction) to Benzoin when it was used in a different procedure in the recent past, documentation of that incident was not available to the radiologist at the time that he placed the Plaintiff’s PICC line. In addition, the radiologist discussed the procedure of placing the PICC line with the Plaintiff and he asked the Plaintiff about his known allergies. The Plaintiff did not give him any information that would have caused concern about using Benzoin. Finally, the evidence clearly supported the radiologist’s position that the risks of a potential adverse reaction to Benzoin were far outweighed by the benefits of its use.
Following a five day trial, and after approximately 3 hours of deliberation, the jury found that the radiologist was not negligent. Hart v. Graham, M.D., Civil No. 27837. District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, Park County, WY. 6.16.16
Jury Verdict for Defendants in trip & fall claim
Murane & Bostwick attorneys Loyd Smith and David Singleton obtained a defense verdict for Menard, Inc. in a trip and fall case with severe injuries. The case was tried before a jury in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming in Cheyenne in March, 2016. In this case, the plaintiff, a 78 year-old woman, tripped on an unmarked guy wire used to stake a newly planted tree as she walked across an elevated rock-landscaped island in the Menard’s parking lot. The plaintiff fell hard, hitting her face and head on the curb of the island, essentially doing a “face-plant” on the concrete curb. The plaintiff’s fall was dramatically caught on store surveillance/security camera video. The plaintiff sustained multiple severe injuries, most notably cervical spine injury resulting in cervical fusion and discectomy at C3-C5. The plaintiff underwent months of rehabilitation and sustained permanent disability, requiring the use of a wheel chair initially and graduating slowly to a walker by the time of trial. The trial evidence showed that the plaintiff required caretaking after her surgery through the trial two years later and would likely continue to require such caretaking for the rest of her life.
Plaintiff’s theory of liability was that Menards knew that customers sometimes walked across the rock-landscaped islands, as admitted by Menards’ employee witnesses and as shown in security camera videos, and therefore Menards and the co-defendant landscape contractor were negligent in not marking the “nearly invisible” guy wires with bright colored flagging or tubing as is the industry standard in known pedestrian areas. The defense, however, produced evidence through landscape architects and landscape contractors showing that such flagging or tubing was not the industry standard in areas not designed for pedestrian traffic and that the elevated rock islands were not intended for foot traffic. The defense also produced evidence showing that plaintiff had many health issues prior to her fall, including tremors, prior stroke, gait instability and cataracts scheduled for surgery such that plaintiff, of all people, should not have attempted to traverse the island. Critically, the defense obtained plaintiff’s admission that she knew the island was not intended for pedestrian use but she walked across the island anyway.
Plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury for 13.5 million in damages in closing argument. After a four and one-half day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Menards and the co-defendant landscape contractor. Davenport v. Menard, Inc., d/b/a Menards, et al., Civil No. 14-CV-00222 6.1.16
Defense Verdict in a Slip and Fall at Walgreen’s Entrance
Murane & Bostwick attorneys Andy Sears and James Worthen successfully defended Walgreens Co. in a slip and fall case tried to a State District Court jury in Casper, WY. The Plaintiff claimed that in January, 2012, she slipped and fell on ice near the entrance way of the Walgreens store in Casper, WY.
The evidence established that a snowstorm had dropped approximately 5 to 6 inches of snow on Casper the day before the Plaintiff’s accident. The Defense argued that the condition of the sidewalk was similar to any other driveway, walkway, sidewalk, or entranceway a reasonable person would expect to encounter in Wyoming the day after a significant snowstorm. The Defense also established that Walgreens acted as reasonably as possible by routinely shoveling the entranceway and applying salt as it was needed, but despite its best efforts icy conditions are inevitable in the winter months.
After a five days of trial and approximately 1½ hours deliberation, the jury found that Walgreens was not negligent. Montoya v. Walgreens, Civil No. 96025, District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, Natrona County, WY 6.1.16
Summary Judgment for Defendants in Fraud and Bad Faith Lawsuit
On motion by Murane & Bostwick Attorneys James Bell and Andy Sears, the United States District Court for Wyoming held that the Defendants, Unified Caring Association (“UCA”) and United States Fire Insurance Company (“USFIC”), were entitled to summary judgment on claims of fraud, first party bad faith and attorney’s fees. (The Court also held that a third Defendant, Health Option One (“HOO”) represented by another law firm, was also entitled to summary judgment.)
The Plaintiff’s claims against the defendants arose out of her purchase of a membership in UCA which included, as a member benefit, a “limited medical indemnity plan” issued by USFIC and sold by HOO. Plaintiff later suffered acute appendicitis which, while treatment did not require an overnight hospital stay, resulted in significant hospital, surgical and imaging charges. Her claims for benefits under the USFIC policy were denied. She filed suit against UCA, USFIC and the third defendant HOO.
Following completion of discovery, the defendants filed motions for summary judgment. Based on the clear facts established through discovery, the Court ruled:
- That the Plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient to support her claim of fraud. Specifically, the Plaintiff could not point to a single false misrepresentation made to her at the time of her purchase of the UCA Membership.
- That there were no genuine issues of material fact sufficient to support her claim of first party bad faith against USFIC, and that the benefit claimed was properly denied because the Plaintiff was not admitted to the hospital as an inpatient as required by the policy.
- That the Plaintiff could not recover attorney’s fees from USFIG because she did not prevail on her claim of first-party bad faith.
Riley v. Unified Caring Association, et. al., Case No. 13-CV-173-J, United States District Court for the District of Wyoming.
Dismissal of Medical Malpractice Claim Upheld on Appeal
Upon motion by Murane & Bostwick attorneys Hank Combs and Andy Sears, the Third Judicial District Court in Lincoln County, WY dismissed a wrongful death action against a Wyoming hospital district and other medical service providers based upon the failure to timely present claims to the governmental entities as required by the Governmental Claims Act. The Act requires that before a lawsuit can be filed against a governmental entity, a claim must be presented to the entity within two years of the alleged act, error or omission. It was clear that the claims were presented two years and 18 days following the alleged malpractice alleged to have been the cause of death.
In her appeal of the dismissal, the claimant, personal representative of the decedent’s estate, argued that the two-year period had been tolled, that is, excused, by the provisions of the Medical Review Panel Act; that the two-year period for submitting a claim was extended by the “continuous treatment” doctrine and that finally, that the period of filing a claim was due to the decedent’s incapacity. Rejecting all three arguments, the Wyoming Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the trial court’s dismissal, holding (1) that although a notice of the claim had been submitted to the Medical Review Panel within two years, the claim itself had not been submitted to the entities involved within that period as specifically required by statute; (2) that there was no evidence of “continuing treatment” of the decedent by any of the entities following the initial emergency room treatment, and (3) that the incapacity of the decedent was not relevant, inasmuch as the Personal Representative of the decedent, whose duty it was to timely file the claim, was not incapacitated. Stroth v. North Lincoln County Hosp. Dist. 2014 WY 81, 327 P.3d 121.
Defense verdict for Kmart
Murane & Bostwick attorneys James Worthen and Andy Sears successfully defended Kmart Corporation in a trip and fall case tried to a Casper, Wyoming State District Court jury. The plaintiff claimed to have been injured when she tripped over the legs of a rolling clothes rack as she was exiting the fitting room area at the Casper store. The Plaintiff alleged she sustained micro-fractures in her cervical and thoracic spine as well as having to undergo a multilevel fusion of her lumber spine. The defense of the claim focused on three areas: 1) the significant inconsistencies between the testimony of the plaintiff and her two eye-witness daughters; 2) the rack was not within the normal walkway; and 3) the absence of credible evidence that the fall produced the claimed injuries.
Significantly, the defense produced evidence that 1), none of the Plaintiff’s physicians found evidence of the claimed micro-fractures other than her own expert who performed the lumbar fusion and who acknowledged there was no evidence of acute pathological changes in the plaintiff’s lumbar spine and 2), that Plaintiff had failed to disclose to her treating doctors and in discovery that she had a pre-existing 12-year history of back pain for which she had, on the day of the accident, a prescription for up to 8 hydrocodone tablets a day.
Following a five day trial, and after deliberating for 2 ½ hours, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Kmart.
Summary Judgment for Defendants in Trail Ride Claim
On Motion by Murane & Bostwick Attorneys James Worthen and Andrew Sears, the United States District Court for Wyoming held that Defendants Teton Village Trail Riders and Yellowstone Outfitters were entitled to summary judgment on a claim for personal injury damages. The Plaintiff sustained serious shoulder injury when he fell from a horse when the buckle on the saddle strap cinch broke. The Court addressed two issues. First, whether the Plaintiff was bound by the language of a release of liability that had been signed by the Plaintiff’s wife, and second, whether the exculpatory language of the release that excused the Defendants from all liability, including negligence, was enforceable. Deciding the first issue based on the law of agency, the Court held that an agency relationship may be implied from the parties’ words or conduct, and found that the Plaintiff, having read or at least skimmed the release, and having told his wife to sign it, was bound by the wife’s signature. Deciding the second issue of whether the Defendants could contractually avoid liability for negligence, the Court determined that providing recreational trail rides was not the kind of business that required a special duty to the public (such as public utilities or services involving extra-hazardous activities), and that the language of the release was clear and specifically included negligence resulting in bodily injury. Therefore, the Court concluded that the “Plaintiff’s injury and his claim for negligence falls within the Release’s coverage” and that “Consequently, Plaintiff cannot maintain this negligence action.”
Defense verdict for emergency room physician affirmed on appeal
Murane & Bostwick attorney Hank Combs successfully defended an emergency room physician in a wrongful death medical malpractice case tried to a jury in Natrona County, Wyoming. The claim involved a woman who presented at the hospital emergency room with shortness of breath, severe coughing and headaches. X-rays showed that she had bilateral pneumonia. She was treated in the ER with IV antibiotics, pain medication, a breathing treatment and cough medicine. After showing signs of improvement, she was sent home with oral antibiotics and prescription cough syrup. She was instructed not to consume alcohol while taking the cough syrup, told to see her family physician the next day, and to return to the ER if she got worse. The next day she was found in a coma by her son and was dead on arrival at the hospital. Evidence showed that she had not followed up with her family doctor, that she had consumed alcohol, and she had taken more than the prescribed amount of her cough medication.
The plaintiff, personal representative of the estate, claimed that the defendant doctor should have admitted her to the hospital and that failure to do so was negligent. The defense produced evidence that the standard of care for treating pneumonia patients at an ER did not require hospital admission and that the patient had an obligation to follow the doctor’s instructions but failed to do so. The jury’s verdict was unanimous in favor of the doctor.
On appeal, plaintiff claimed, among other issues, that the trial judge improperly admitted opinion testimony from the defendant’s retained expert, and improperly allowed the defendant doctor to offer speculative, undesignated expert testimony. Rejecting these claims, the Wyoming Supreme Court unanimously held that the designation of the testimony of the defendant’s retained expert was sufficient, and that the defense was not required to designate the testimony of the defendant physician himself, other than to advise the plaintiff that he may be asked at trial to present expert testimony in his defense, observing that the defendant physician “was a defendant, not an expert retained or employed to provide testimony.” Miller v. Beyer, 329 P. 3d 956 (Wyo. 2014)
Dismissal of Vexatious Lawsuit for Failure to Prove Valid Service of Process
Murane & Bostwick attorney Loyd Smith obtained a dismissal of a lawsuit in the Third Judicial District Court in Uinta County Wyoming filed by a notorious pro se litigant against a Utah psychologist. The Court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction due to the absence of valid service of process. The Plaintiff attempted to demonstrate she had served a summons and complaint upon the Defendant by virtue of a suspicious affidavit of service. Murane & Bostwick attorney Loyd Smith moved for dismissal and requested an evidentiary hearing on the validity of service of process. The Court, after hearing testimony at the hearing, issued its decision finding that the summons and complaint were not properly served and therefore the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over the Defendant. In issuing its decision, the Court noted that the Plaintiff failed to produce at the hearing either the purported process server or the notary who signed the suspicious return of service. Due to the running of the statute of limitation, the dismissal of the claims against the Defendant foreclosed further attempts at service. In addition to the dismissal, the Court found that the Plaintiff had engaged in a pattern of vexatious litigation and granted the additional relief sought by Defendant of imposing filing restrictions on the Plaintiff, including that she must obtain the Court’s permission to file a pro se lawsuit in the future. Lundahl v. Gregory, et al., Case No. 13-23, District Court of Uinta County, WY. 11.19.15
Seminars, Publications, Presentations & Professional and Civic Activities
Murane & Bostwick has been very active in the past several years in ALFA International activities. ALFA International is a global legal network of 150 independent law firms, 80 in the United States and 70 across Canada, Mexico, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. Murane & Bostwick attorneys, have for several years, prepared summaries of Wyoming law for ALFA’s workers’ compensation, construction, insurance, transportation and product liability practice groups.
Murane & Bostwick attorney Loyd Smith is the contributing editor for the Wyoming section of Business Torts, A Fifty-State Guide. The book is a reference compendium of business tort law published by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, and updated annually. Mr. Smith has been the Wyoming editor since 2007.
Murane & Bostwick attorney James Worthen has assumed responsibility, previously shared with attorney Greg Greenlee, for of the Wyoming Section of the 2015 Product Liability Desk Reference – A 50 State Compendium, published by Wolters Kluwer, Law & Business. This important reference work is scheduled for publication in early 2015.The Wyoming Section of this desk reference has been authored by Murane & Bostwick attorneys since 1998.