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Fish v. Ramler Trucking, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

January 22, 2019

Frederick S. Fish, Appellant,
v.
Ramler Trucking, Inc., defendant and third-party plaintiff, Respondent, Wells Concrete Products Company and Albany Manufacturing, Inc., Third-Party Defendants.

          Stearns County District Court File No. 73-CV-15-10792

          Scott Wilson, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Michel Steven Krug, Krug & Zupke, P.C., St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Teri E. Bentson, Law Offices of Thomas P. Stilp, Golden Valley, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Daniel J. Cragg, Eckland & Blando LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for amicus curiae Minnesota Association for Justice)

          Considered and decided by Bjorkman, Presiding Judge; Worke, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge. [*]

         SYLLABUS

         Minn. Stat. § 604.02 (2018) does not apply to reduce the amount of a judgment entered against a third-party tortfeasor based on the percentage of fault allocated to an employer immune from tort liability under the workers' compensation act. The contribution, if any, owed by the employer to a third-party tortfeasor is determined under Minn. Stat. § 176.061, subd. 11 (2018), and Lambertson v. Cincinnati Welding Corp., 257 N.W.2d 679 (Minn. 1977).

          OPINION

          BJORKMAN, JUDGE

         In this appeal from judgment following a jury trial on personal-injury claims arising out of a workplace accident, appellant asserts that the district court erred by (1) applying Minn. Stat. § 604.02 to reduce the judgment entered against respondent based on the jury's allocation of fault to appellant's employer, who is immune from tort liability under the workers' compensation act and (2) offsetting against the past wage-loss award part of a lump-sum workers' compensation settlement received by appellant. Because we agree that the district court erred in both respects, we reverse and remand for recalculation of the judgment to be entered against respondent.

         FACTS

         Appellant Frederick Fish suffered workplace injuries while on loan by his employer, Albany Manufacturing, Inc., to Wells Concrete Productions Company (Wells). Fish was injured while working aboard a flatbed trailer being pulled by a semi-tractor driven by an employee of respondent Ramler Trucking, Inc. Pursuant to the loaned-servant agreement, Albany's insurer paid workers' compensation benefits to Fish. Fish received 130 weeks of temporary total disability (TTD) benefits totaling $48, 560.68. He also received $2, 245 in permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits and $125, 744.18 in medical-expense benefits. And he settled the balance of his workers' compensation claim for a lump sum of $79, 755 (the lump-sum settlement) and $13, 000 in attorney fees.

         After settling his workers' compensation claim, Fish sued Ramler for negligence; Ramler brought a third-party action against Albany and Wells. Ramler, Albany, and Albany's insurer settled their respective contribution and subrogation claims before trial in a "reverse-Naig" agreement.[1]

         The case was tried to a jury, which found Wells, Ramler, and Fish causally negligent and apportioned fault 75% to Wells, 20% to Ramler, and 5% to Fish. The jury awarded damages of $125, 000 in past pain, disability, and emotional distress; $108, 288 in past health-care expenses; $105, 000 in lost wages; $72, 500 in future, pain, disability, and emotional distress; $16, 552.54 in future health-care expenses; and $100, 000 in loss of earning capacity. Following the verdict, the district court held a hearing and issued an order reducing the damages awarded based on the amount of workers' compensation benefits Fish received and calculating the judgment to be entered against Ramler.

         Relevant to this appeal, the district court offset against the $105, 000 past wage-loss award not only the $48, 560.68 in TTD benefits and $2, 245 in PPD benefits Fish received, but also $38, 101.08 of his lump-sum settlement, based on the district court's calculation of TTD benefits Fish would have received through the date of trial but for the settlement.[2]After reducing the damages awarded to reflect workers' compensation payments, the district court further reduced the awards by 5% based on Fish's percentage of fault. From the remaining $278, ...


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