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Guilder v. National Freight

September 14, 2004

DAVID VAN GUILDER, AN INCOMPETENT PERSON, BY LEE VAN GUILDER, HIS CONSERVATOR, APPELLANT (A03-911), RESPONDENT (A03-1408),
v.
NATIONAL FREIGHT, INC., ET AL., RESPONDENTS (A03-911), APPELLANTS (A03-1408), NEW PRIME, INC., ET AL., RESPONDENTS, SUCCESS LEASING, INC., DEFENDANT.



Steele County District Court File No. CX-02-349.

Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Kalitowski, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

When an insurer of a tortfeasor is insolvent, Minn. Stat. § 60C.13, subd. 1 (2002), the exhaustion requirement of the Minnesota Insurance Guaranty Association Act, requires the solvent insurer of a joint tortfeasor to exhaust its available insurance coverage before the solvent insurer is entitled to reallocation of any uncollectible portion of the judgment under Minn. Stat. § 604.02, subd. 2 (2002).

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

Affirmed in part and reversed in part

OPINION

In these consolidated appeals, David Van Guilder's conservator asserts that he is entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) because the jury's award of past medical expenses is inadequate and the jury's determination that he was causally negligent is not supported by the record. National Freight challenges the district court's denial of its motion to reallocate the uncollectible portion of New Prime's equitable share of the judgment under Minn. Stat. § 604.02, subd. 2 (2002). As to Van Guilder's appeal, we reverse the denial of JNOV as to damages and affirm the denial as to fault. As to National Freight's appeal, we affirm the district court's reallocation decision.

FACTS

On December 3, 1999, at approximately 5:30 a.m., in foggy conditions, a multiple-vehicle collision occurred on northbound Interstate 35, south of Owatonna. Shortly before the accident, Steven Whitehead, who was driving a tractor-trailer truck owned by National Freight (collectively National Freight), pulled onto the right shoulder of the northbound interstate to check his on-board computer for directions and to relieve himself. After doing so, he drove along the shoulder to get up to speed and then merged onto the right lane of the highway.

Charles Williams was driving New Prime's tractor-trailer truck (collectively New Prime) northbound on Interstate 35. The New Prime truck struck the National Freight truck from behind. Although the National Freight truck was able to pull ahead and stop on the right shoulder, the New Prime truck jackknifed and completely blocked the northbound lanes of the freeway. A thick, slippery fluid accumulated on the road from the accident, and debris was scattered across the road.

John Kluver was driving a third tractor-trailer truck, also traveling northbound. As he approached the area, traveling at about 55 to 60 miles per hour, Kluver saw Van Guilder's car pass Kluver on the left and then "impact" the jackknifed truck. Kluver braked, and although his truck was sliding, he was able to pull over onto the right shoulder. Kluver next saw a second passenger vehicle (the Hamburg vehicle) and then a third passenger vehicle slide by. The Hamburg vehicle struck Van Guilder's driver's-side door. Van Guilder was seriously injured.

Van Guilder's conservator sued National Freight and its driver, Whitehead, and New Prime*fn1 and its driver, Williams. At trial, Van Guilder presented evidence that he suffered catastrophic injuries and incurred $293,908.21 in medical bills, plus additional expenses for home-care services. The jury determined that Whitehead, Williams, and Van Guilder were negligent in the operation of their respective vehicles, and that their negligence was a direct cause of the accident. The jury assessed the drivers' negligence as follows: National Freight truck driver Whitehead, 37.75 percent; New Prime truck driver Williams, 40 percent; and Van Guilder, 22.25 percent. Among other damages, the jury awarded $100,000 for past medical expenses. The district court denied posttrial motions and denied National Freight's motion for reallocation based on the insolvency of New Prime's insurer. These consolidated appeals followed.

ISSUES

I. Was Van Guilder entitled to JNOV regarding past medical expenses on the ground that the parties stipulated to them and past medical expenses were uncontroverted at trial?

II. Was Van Guilder entitled to JNOV on the jury's findings that he was partially negligent and that his negligence was a direct cause of the accident?

III. Under the Minnesota Insurance Guaranty Association Act, must National Freight, as a joint tortfeasor with a solvent insurer, exhaust its insurance coverage under Minn. Stat. § 60C.13, subd. 1 (2002), before the uncollectible portion is reallocated under Minn. Stat. § 604.02, subd. 2 (2002)?

ANALYSIS

I.

We "will sustain a jury verdict if it is possible to do so on any reasonable theory of the evidence." Hughes v. Sinclair Mktg., Inc., 389 N.W.2d 194, 198 (Minn. 1986). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, Lesmeister v. Dilly, 330 N.W.2d 95, 100 (Minn. 1983), we "will set aside a jury ...


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