Clay County District Court File No. C4011437
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and
I. A plaintiff's release, for consideration, of the right to collect no-fault benefits pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 65B.51 (2002) does not bar an action to recover future health care expenses as damages arising from the accident.
II. An award of future medical expenses in a negligence action for injuries sustained in an accident arising out of the use of a motor vehicle constitutes economic loss under Minn. Stat. § 65B.51, subd. 2 (2002), rather than non-economic loss, and thus the award is not subject to the tort threshold under Minn. Stat. §á65B.51, subd.á3 (2002), of the Minnesota No-Fault Insurance Act.
III. The trial court did not err in deducting the amount received by the plaintiff in a settlement with her no-fault insurer from a jury's award of future medical expenses.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudson, Judge
In this negligence action arising out of an automobile accident, the jury awarded damages for future medical expenses. The trial court, after a posttrial collateral sources motion, reduced the award for future medical expenses by the amount of basic economic loss benefits the plaintiff had received in settlement with her no-fault insurer, and further reduced the award in proportion to plaintiff's attributable fault. On appeal, appellant Lori Ann Theis contends that respondent Rochelle Pemberton is not entitled to the future medical expense award because (a) she entered into a release of all no-fault benefits, including future medical expenses, before trial; (b) she failed to meet the required no-fault tort threshold under Minn. Stat. § 65B.51, subd. 3 (2002), which applies to future medical expenses; and (c) the trial court should have deducted the full amount of future medical expenses awarded from the jury's verdict. Pemberton filed a notice of review, claiming that the trial court improperly deducted the amount received in a no-fault settlement from the future medical-expense award. Because we conclude that (a) the release signed by the plaintiff with her no-fault insurance company does not preclude her from suing the defendant for negligence; (b) an award of future medical expenses constitutes economic loss and thus is not subject to the tort threshold under Minn. Stat. §á65B.51, subd.á3 (2002); and (c) the district court did not err in deducting the amount received as a no-fault settlement from the future medical-expenses verdict, we affirm.
This case arises out of a low-speed motor vehicle accident that occurred on Augustá22, 1998, when a vehicle driven by appellant Lori Ann Theis rear-ended a vehicle driven by respondent Rochelle Lynn Pemberton. Theis, who had stopped at a stoplight, proceeded immediately after the light turned green, hitting Pemberton's car, which was still stopped in front of Theis. As a result of the accident, Pemberton suffered neck pain with a cervical strain.
In February 2001 Pemberton signed a release with her no-fault automobile insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm), stating that for consideration paid of $2,331, she released State Farm from any further claims, known or unknown, now existing or arising in the future, for medical expense, disability and income loss, or replacement service benefits under her no-fault policy. The release also contained a provision stating that Pemberton reserved the right to pursue "any liability and underinsured benefits [she] may have."
Six months later, Pemberton sued Theis for negligence as a result of the injuries she sustained in the accident. After a jury trial, the jury issued a special verdict apportioning negligence 80% to Theis and 20% to Pemberton. The jury found that Pemberton sustained no permanent injury as a result of the collision and awarded the following sums for past damages incurred:
Past pain, disability, and emotional ...