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Olson v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co.

April 15, 2003

IN RE THE ARBITRATION OF LISA OLSON, RESPONDENT,
v.
AUTO-OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANT.



Hennepin County District Court File No. CT01014979

Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. No-fault arbitrators have the authority to request additional evidence from the parties and delay the close of the hearing for that purpose, but they exceed their powers if they do not decide an issue that is properly before them.

2. When a district court vacates and remands a no-fault arbitration award, the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata are inapplicable to issues on remand.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Halbrooks, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Appellant insurer challenges the district court's order confirming a no-fault arbitration award arguing that the arbitrator exceeded her powers by considering issues barred by collateral estoppel and res judicata. Because collateral estoppel and resájudicata were inapplicable to the issues on remand, we affirm.

FACTS

In February 1998, respondent Lisa Olson injured her back and knee in an automobile accident. Appellant Auto-Owners Insurance Company paid Olson medical and wage loss benefits for approximately one year. After Auto-Owners terminated Olson's no-fault insurance benefits, Olson petitioned for mandatory arbitration under Minn. Stat. §á65B.525 (2000).

At the hearing, the arbitrator focused, in part, on a November 2000 chart note and the operative report from Olson's March 2001 arthroscopic knee surgery. In the chart note, Olson's physician opined that an MRI scan of Olson's knee suggested a medial meniscal tear and that her car accident was "a significant contributing factor to this condition." The operative report following arthroscopic surgery indicated that there was no obvious meniscal tear and that the only unusual finding present was the amount of synovial overgrowth. The physician stated that the synovial overgrowth could be the cause of Olson's pain, but he did not offer an opinion as to whether or not the car accident caused the synovial overgrowth.

Following the hearing, the arbitrator issued a decision on August 9, 2001 that awarded Olson benefits related to her back injury. With respect to Olson's knee injury, the arbitrator stated that the evidence suggests that the cause of Olson's continuing pain, disability, and ongoing need for treatment [of her knee] was synovial overgrowth. This arbitrator could find nothing in the records from either side to indicate whether the synovial overgrowth was or was not caused by the car accident of February 13, 1998.

As a result, the arbitrator indicated that she was "not denying the medical bills related to the knee injury as unrelated to the car collision." Because there was insufficient evidence to determine whether the synovial overgrowth was causally related to the accident, the arbitrator stated that Olson "should be permitted to refile for arbitration if she obtains an opinion that the synovial overgrowth was caused by the *á*á* car collision."

Olson filed a second petition for arbitration of benefits related to her knee injury on August 18, 2001. Auto-Owners filed a motion to dismiss the claim in the district court, arguing that it was barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata. Olson countered with a motion to vacate the first arbitration award on the ground that the arbitrator had exceeded her powers by issuing an unresponsive award. The district court agreed with Olson, concluding that "the arbitrator * * * exceeded her authority by failing to resolve some of the issues submitted for arbitration." Accordingly, the district ...


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