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Zurich American Insurance Co. v. Bjelland

December 28, 2004

ZURICH AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANT,
v.
DONALD A. BJELLAND, RESPONDENT.



Kanabec County District Court File No. C9-03-000277.

Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Halbrooks, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*fn1

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. An alleged third-party tortfeasor in a workers' compensation subrogation action has a right to a jury trial on both damages and liability, and the insurer-subrogee is not automatically entitled to the full recovery of benefits paid and payable without first proving damages and liability.

2. The plain meaning of the amended language of Minn. Stat. § 176.061, subds. 3, 5, 7, 10 (2002), permits an insurer-subrogee full recovery of workers' compensation benefits paid and payable, regardless of common law or statutory limits.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge

Reversed and remanded

OPINION

The district court ordered the entry of two partial summary judgments. The first determined that an alleged third-party tortfeasor in a workers' compensation subrogation action has a right to a jury trial on liability and damages and that the insurer-subrogee is not automatically entitled to the full recovery of benefits paid and payable without first proving liability and damages. Appellant does not challenge this holding.

In the second judgment, the district court adopted the parties' stipulated conclusion, agreed upon for purposes of appeal, that the appellant-insurer's recovery of workers' compensation benefits it paid on behalf of a deceased employee are limited to those damages recoverable under Minn. Stat. § 573.02 (2002), the Wrongful Death Act. Appellant challenges this conclusion, arguing that the 2000 amendments to Minn. Stat. § 176.061 (2002), the subrogation provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act, redefined the measure of recovery in such actions as the full amount of benefits paid and payable to the employee.

Because the plain language of the amendments effectively removes any former common law or statutory limitations to recovery in such actions, we reverse the second judgment. And because the parties have stipulated to liability and damages, we remand for the effectuation of the stipulation.

FACTS

In this appeal from a summary judgment, the district court ruled that a workers' compensation insurer-subrogee, who has paid compensation for a worker's wrongful death, is limited in its recovery of damages against a third-party tortfeasor to only the amounts recoverable under the Wrongful Death Act, even though some of those amounts are less than the workers' compensation benefits paid or payable.

Respondent Donald Bjelland failed to stop his semi-tractor-trailer at a stop sign and collided with a car Eugene Bodeker was driving in the course of his employment for Associated Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI). Bodeker was killed.

Appellant Zurich American Insurance Company, AMPI's workers' compensation insurer, paid to Bodeker's survivors $104,319 in workers' compensation benefits. That sum included dependency benefits. Dependency benefits required by the Workers' Compensation ...


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