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Ayers v. Kalal

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

March 18, 2019

Justin K. Ayers, et al., Respondents,
v.
John William Kalal, et al., Appellants.

          Dakota County District Court File No. 19HA-CV-14-2487

          Christopher L. Goodman, Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, LLP, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondents) [1]

          Patrick L. Arneson, League of Minnesota Cities, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellants John William Kalal and City of Burnsville)

          Considered and decided by Rodenberg, Presiding Judge; Reilly, Judge; and Bratvold, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         Under Minn. Stat. § 65B.51, subd. 1 (2018), basic economic loss benefits paid to or on behalf of a person injured in the maintenance, use, or operation of a motor vehicle must be offset from any verdict in a personal-injury action brought by the injured person, regardless of whether the reparation obligor is entitled to indemnity from the tortfeasor under Minn. Stat. § 65B.53, subd. 1 (2018). A reparation obligor is subrogated to claims based on either negligence in a state other than Minnesota or negligence other than negligence in the maintenance, use, or operation of a motor vehicle.

          OPINION

          RODENBERG, JUDGE

         Appellants John William Kalal and City of Burnsville (the city) appeal from judgment in favor of respondent Justin Ayers on his claims arising out of personal injuries he suffered when his van was hit by a city snowplow driven by Kalal. Appellants argue that the district court erred in (1) declining to submit to the jury factual issues concerning snow-and-ice immunity in the first trial (which determined liability), (2) granting respondent's motion for a new trial on damages, (3) failing to apply the statutory offset under Minn. Stat. § 65B.51, subd. 1, for basic economic loss (no-fault) benefits paid to respondent, and (4) improperly determining the amount of costs and disbursements and prejudgment interest. We affirm the district court's grant of respondent's new trial motion and see no reversible error in the district court's instructions to the jury, but we reverse and remand for the district court to properly apply section 65B.51, subdivision 1, and to properly determine costs, disbursements, and interest.

         FACTS

         On January 11, 2011, respondent was driving his van southbound on Highway 13 in the city of Burnsville when he was involved in a motor-vehicle collision. As respondent approached the intersection of Highway 13 with Horizon Drive to the east and 117th Street to the west, a snowplow driven by Kalal, an employee of the city, collided with respondent's van when Kalal attempted to cross the intersection by driving from Horizon Drive onto 117th Street, crossing Highway 13 in the process. The snowplow hit the driver's side of respondent's van, separated the driver's seat from the van, and pierced a hole in the side of the van large enough for respondent to crawl out of the van through that hole after the collision. It is undisputed that respondent had the right of way.

         Respondent sued Kalal and the city, alleging that Kalal was negligent in operating the snowplow (which was not plowing snow at the time), and that the city was vicariously liable for Kalal's negligence. Appellants moved the district court for summary judgment, arguing that: (1) Kalal's acts at the scene of the accident are protected by common-law official immunity; (2) the facts of the accident entitle appellants to statutory snow-and-ice immunity; (3) appellants are protected by statutory discretionary immunity to the extent respondent's claims are based on the city's snow-removal policy; and (4) Kalal had no duty to obey traffic laws at the time of the accident. The district court denied appellants' motion for summary judgment.

         Appellants brought an interlocutory appeal, arguing that they were entitled to common-law official immunity and vicarious official immunity, or, in the alternative, snow-and-ice immunity under Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 4 (2018).[2] Ayers v. Kalal, No. A15-0694, 2015 WL 9264116, at *1 (Minn.App. Dec. 21, 2015) (Ayers I). We affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment. Id. at *3.

         The case proceeded to a jury trial. Respondent introduced the medical testimony of Dr. Wengler, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, who opined that respondent had suffered permanent injuries as a result of the collision.[3] Appellants did not obtain a medical expert, procure any independent medical examination, or produce expert medical testimony at trial. The jury's special verdict found that Kalal's negligence was a direct, and the only, cause of respondent's injuries. The jury found that respondent had not suffered a permanent injury as a direct result of the collision, and calculated that respondent suffered damages of $42, 178.07. The district court entered judgment accordingly. Respondent moved the district court for judgment as a matter of law (for damages above those awarded by the jury) or, in the alternative, for a new trial. Appellants moved the district court to reduce the amount of the judgment by the amount of no-fault benefits paid to or on behalf of respondent. The district court granted respondent's motion for a new trial on the basis that the jury's verdict was not justified by any reasonable interpretation of the evidence.

         At the second jury trial, limited to the issue of damages, the jury's special verdict found that respondent suffered damages of $152, 810.07 resulting from the collision. Appellants again moved the district court to reduce the award for no-fault benefits paid. Respondents moved the district court for entry of final judgment and applied for taxation of costs and disbursements. The district court declined to reduce respondent's award by the $23, 000 respondent received from his no-fault insurance provider, and entered final judgment.

         This appeal followed.

         ISSUES

         I. Did the district court err by rejecting the issue of snow-and-ice immunity as a matter of law?

         II. Did the district court abuse its discretion in granting respondent's motion for new trial on damages?

         III. Did the district court err when it declined to deduct from the verdict no-fault benefits paid to or on behalf respondent?

         IV. Did the district court err in its award of costs and disbursements, and its award of interest?

         ANALYSIS

         I. The district court did not err by declining to submit the question of ...


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