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Hale v. Viking Trucking Co.

December 19, 2002

JOHNNY W. HALE, RESPONDENT,
v.
VIKING TRUCKING COMPANY AND CRUM AND FORSTER INSURANCE GROUP, RESPONDENTS, PRIMARY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CLINICS, RESPONDENT, PINNACOL ASSURANCE, RELATOR.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. A Minnesota workers' compensation judge lacks jurisdiction to determine whether a workers' compensation insurer who has paid benefits under another state's law is entitled to receive reimbursement for benefits mistakenly paid.

2. Disavowing jurisdiction over matters outside the Minnesota workers' compensation system is not a denial of due process.

3. Disavowing jurisdiction over matters outside the Minnesota workers' compensation system is not a denial of equal protection. Affirmed.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Page, Justice

OPINION

This appeal stems from an order dismissing relator Pinnacol Assurance (Pinnacol) as an intervenor in respondent Johnny W. Hale's (Hale) workers' compensation proceeding because the compensation judge lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Pinnacol's claim for reimbursement. The Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) affirmed the compensation judge. We affirm the WCCA.

On or about January 10, 1998, Hale, while working for BFT Bookkeeping for Truckers (BFT), a Colorado corporation, sustained a work-related injury to his left ankle when Hale dropped a heavy steel plate on his left foot.*fn1 Liability for Hale's January 10 injury was accepted by BFT and its Colorado workers' compensation insurance carrier, Colorado Insurance Authority d/b/a Pinnacol Assurance (Pinnacol). Pinnacol paid Hale benefits under the Colorado workers' compensation system for lost wages and medical treatment related to his left ankle condition. As a result of the January 10 accident, Hale's left ankle was operated on twice. During the second surgery, the ankle was fused. According to his treating physician, by July 13, 1998, Hale's ankle injury was healing well. Hale did not return to work at BFT.

On July 14, 1998, Hale began working as a truck driver for Viking Trucking Company (Viking), a Minnesota corporation. On July 20, 1998, while driving for Viking, Hale was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident. Although his emergency room records from his visit to the hospital after the accident do not mention any problems with his left ankle, on August 1, 1998, Hale was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed as having a failed left ankle fusion. The fusion was surgically revised on August 4, 1998, and additional surgery was required on August 13 and October 27, 1998. In a letter dated May 27, 1999, Hale's treating physician voiced the opinion that the January 1998 and July 1998 injuries contributed equally to Hale's ongoing disability. Pinnacol alleges that Hale did not inform BFT or Pinnacol of his new employment with Viking, the July 20 accident, or the injuries to his ankle that allegedly resulted from that accident. Pinnacol claims that, as a result, it continued to pay for all medical treatment concerning Hale's left ankle after July 20 on the assumption that all costs incurred were causally related to Hale's January 10, 1998, work-related accident.

On April 21, 1999, Hale filed a claim in Minnesota for workers' compensation benefits from Viking and its Minnesota workers' compensation carrier, Crum and Forster Insurance Group, for injuries to his "lower left extremity"*fn2 that he claims were a result of the July 20, 1998, accident. Hale's claim petition listed "Colorado Compensation" as a third-party payor who paid disability or medical benefits related to the claim. According to Pinnacol, it was at this time that it first received notice of the July 20 accident, Hale's employment with Viking, and the pending Minnesota claim. Claiming that Hale had sustained an intervening injury, Pinnacol petitioned to discontinue workers' compensation benefits in Colorado. However, before a hearing on its petition was held, Pinnacol and Hale reached a full, final, and complete settlement of Hale's Colorado workers' compensation claim for injuries resulting from the January 10, 1998, accident.

On February 23, 2001, Hale's Minnesota claim was stricken from the active calendar for failure to provide a pretrial statement. A month and a half later, Pinnacol successfully intervened in Hale's Minnesota workers' compensation action. According to Pinnacol, it sought to intervene because it had, in good faith, mistakenly paid Colorado workers' compensation benefits attributable to Hale's July 20, 1998, work injury, which Viking was obligated to pay, and therefore was entitled to reimbursement from Viking. On May 7, 2001, Viking filed an objection to the motion to intervene and a motion to vacate the order granting intervention. The matter was heard at a prehearing conference and on July 20, 2001, Pinnacol was dismissed as an intervenor for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The WCCA affirmed, noting that the only issue before it was whether, in determining that no basis for subject matter jurisdiction existed, the compensation judge erred in dismissing Pinnacol's intervention and thus its reimbursement claim.*fn3 In doing so, the WCCA concluded that neither it nor the compensation judge "has subject matter jurisdiction to determine or impose a Minnesota remedy where resolution of such a reimbursement claim involves determining whether an employee was entitled to workers' compensation benefits in another state or whether those benefits were mistakenly or improperly paid." Hale v. Viking Trucking Co., 2002 WL 431823, at *4 (Minn. WCCA Feb. 7, 2002). The WCCA went on to note that "the jurisdiction of the Minnesota workers' compensation courts is limited by statute solely to interpreting and applying the workers' compensation laws of this state." Id.

Before this court, Pinnacol raises two issues. First, whether the compensation judge erred in dismissing it as an intervenor for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and, second, whether the dismissal violates Pinnacol's rights to due process and/or equal protection. Because these two issues raise questions of law, our ...


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