United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Laura L. Pittner and Stuart L. Goldenberg, Goldenberg, PLLC, Counsel for Plaintiff.
Mark A. Solheim, Anthony J. Novak, Larson King, LLP, and Jonathan Judge, Davin Reust, Matthew Schiltz, Schiff Hardin, LLP, Counsel for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF LAW & ORDER
MICHAEL J. DAVIS, Chief District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Defendant Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 22], which the parties have requested be decided on the papers [Docket No. 37]. The Court concludes that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the parties agreed to settle all claims prior to the commencement of this action. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
A. Factual Background
In early June 2011, Plaintiff Jesse Schultz was injured while inflating the tires of a hand truck he had purchased from Costco. (Goldenberg Aff., Ex. A, Schultz Demand Letter - Sept. 4, 2012, at 1.) The hand truck had been manufactured by Defendant Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc. (Schultz Demand Letter - Sept. 4, 2012, at 1.) Plaintiff alleges that, while he was inflating the tire, the rim design of the tire exploded and caused severe injury to Plaintiff's hand, nearly amputating his left ring finger. (Schultz Demand Letter - Sept. 4, 2012, at 1.) The incident also resulted in a severed tendon and chipped bone in Plaintiff's finger. (Solheim Aff., Ex. B, Rossi Letter.)
Shortly after the incident, Plaintiff visited the local Costco store, and as he was waiting in the checkout line, a Costco employee asked Plaintiff what had happened to his finger. (Goldenberg Aff., Ex. C, Schultz Dep. 18:20-23.) Plaintiff responded that he had been injured with a product from the Costco store. (Schultz Dep. 19:9-12.) Plaintiff was then asked by the employee to meet with her supervisor. (Schultz Dep. 21:16-18.) On July 26, 2011, after speaking with Plaintiff, the supervisor sent a letter to Defendant. (Rossi Letter; see also Goldenberg Aff., Ex. D, Brooks Dep. 20:23-25.)
After receiving the letter from Costco, Marilyn Brooks, a product specialist and claims adjuster for Defendant, left a voice message for Plaintiff sometime in early August. (Brooks Dep. 11:17-23, 20:18-21:3, 24:6-12.) Brooks had been employed in Defendant's consumer relations department for ten years, and she is experienced in handling liability claims. (Brooks Dep. 11:17-23, 12:16-25, 17:6-13.) Plaintiff returned Brooks' call on August 23, 2011. (Brooks Dep. 25:20-22; Schultz Dep. 27:20-28:1.) Plaintiff and Brooks discussed the hand truck incident and Plaintiff's injury during this initial call. (Brooks Dep. 26:3-8.)
Brooks then informed Plaintiff that he would have to send supporting documentation of his injury and purchase of the hand truck in order to be reimbursed for his out-of-pocket costs. (Schultz Dep. 27:20-28:1, 39:1-5; Brooks Dep. 28:11-16.) Plaintiff claims that there was no mention of releasing Defendant from any and all future liability claims during this call. (See Brooks Dep. 28:9-21 ("During the initial conversation I took the report. He told me what had happened with his hand and that he had to go back to work. I explained to him what he needed to submit to us in order to file a claim for compensation with Dorel.").) After this call, Plaintiff sent Defendant his medical bills, medical records, and the hand truck itself. (Schultz Dep. 30:22-25.)
At Brooks' instruction, Plaintiff also sent Defendant a letter detailing his injuries and requesting $2, 921.77 from Defendant. (Brooks Dep. 90:20-91:6; Schultz Dep. 34:18-19, 38:15-25; Solheim Aff., Ex. C, Schultz Demand Letter - Undated, at 2.) In his letter, Plaintiff states that "I also have other expenses of shipping, bandages, ect. [sic], But am only looking for the total of $2, 921.77." (Schultz Demand Letter - Undated, at 2.) After receiving the letter, Brooks called Plaintiff on November 10, 2011 ("November 10 Conversation"). (Brooks Dep. 47:6-21.)
The parties provide different characterizations of what was said during the November 10 Conversation. Defendant alleges that Brooks accepted what Defendant characterizes as Plaintiff's offer to settle the claim. (See Brooks Dep. 47:6-21 ("[H]e said that the total amount that he was asking for [was] $2, 921.77. So I called him to let him know that we had agreed to pay his claim for that amount.").) Plaintiff, however, maintains that, at no point from August 4, 2011 to the November 10 Conversation did Defendant or Plaintiff agree that reimbursement for Plaintiff's out-of-pocket expenses would be a settlement of all claims against Defendant. (Brooks Dep. 35:2-37:13; 89:12-20.)
Defendant alleges that, during the November 10 Conversation, Plaintiff and Brooks agreed that Plaintiff would sign a release of liability (the "Release") as to Defendant, and in exchange he would receive his requested reimbursement. (Brooks Dep. 92:18-93:7; Schultz Dep. 41:14-17.) However, Plaintiff disputes that Brooks mentioned the Release at all during the November 10 Conversation. (See Goldenberg Aff., Ex. B, Schultz Aff. ¶¶ 9-10.) Both parties agree that the Release was not discussed in detail during the November 10 Conversation. (Brooks Dep. 70:22-71: 14, 77:12-20 ("No, I didn't go through all of this step by step, one by one with him.").)
Brooks immediately sent Plaintiff a letter referring to Plaintiff's claim and enclosing the Release. (Solheim Aff., Ex. E, Letter & Release.) The letter provided that "[i]t is important [the reader] read[s] and understand[s] this document fully before signing it." (Letter & Release, at SCHULTZ000002.) It also stated that the Release was a "legally binding contract" and needed to be "signed in the presence of a Notary Public or [Plaintiff's] claim cannot be processed." (Letter & Release, at SCHULTZ000002.) The Release itself, entitled "Confidential Release of All Claims" was a three-page, single-spaced document. (Letter & Release, at SCHULTZ000003 - SCHULTZ000005.) It included clauses regarding Plaintiff's right to consult with an attorney before executing the Release, the requirement that Plaintiff hold harmless and defend Defendant from any and all claims by a third party, and the suggestion that Plaintiff read the Release completely before signing it. (Letter & Release §§ III, VI; Letter & Release, at SCHULTZ000005.) In his deposition, Plaintiff later acknowledged that, at the time he received the Release, he understood that he had agreed to settle for $2, 922.00. (Schultz Dep. 42:2-6.)
After some time, Brooks called Plaintiff, who indicated that he had misplaced the Release. (Brooks Dep. 97:18-98:4.) During the call, Plaintiff requested an additional copy of the Release to sign and return. (Brooks Dep. 97:18-98:4.) After requesting the additional copy of the Release, however, Plaintiff spoke to his health and benefit coordinator, who advised Plaintiff not to sign the Release. (Schultz Dep. 44:1-11.) Plaintiff refused to sign the Release. (Schultz Dep. 44:24-45:5.)
To date, Plaintiff has incurred approximately $26, 000 in medical bills as a result of the hand truck incident. (Schultz Aff. ¶ 1.) Much of his medical expenses have been paid by Plaintiff's health carrier, Minnesota Laborers Health and Welfare Fund; however, his health carrier is expected to demand reimbursement for its ...