Minnesota Comparative Fault Act Does Not Reduce Damages Owed by Third-Party Defendant Where Jury Find Plaintiff’s Employer Also Shares a Percentage of Fault

In Fish v. Ramler Trucking Inc., 2019 WL 272865 (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 22, 2019), the Minnesota Court of Appeals determined that Minnesota’s comparative fault statute 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. Instead, the contribution shall be determined under Minn. Stat. 176.061, subd. 11 and Lambertson v. Cincinnati Welding Corp., 257 N.W.2d 679 (Minn. 1977). Fish appealed after the district court reduced his damages based on the amount of workers’ compensation benefits he received and a lump-sum settlement he had entered into, as well as his percentage of fault.

In reversing the district court’s reduction of damages, the Court of Appeals stated that the district court should have looked to the Workers’ Compensation Act, Minn. Stat. 176, which allows employees to bring civil actions against third party tortfeasors subject to employer’s right of subrogation. Along with Minn. Stat. 176, Lambertson makes clear that the procedure for allocating damages between an employer and a third party when workers’ compensation benefits have been paid is not the same as it is through the Comparative Fault Act. The Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in Lambertson has been upheld in all decisions pertaining to this matter. The remedy between an employer and a third party should be based on achieving fairness on particular facts.

In upholding Lambertson, Fish stated that the legislature has not put forward any intent to supplant the case. Through this, it ordered the district court to order judgment against Ramler for the full amount awarded by the jury and only offset that amount by appropriate offsets. The Court of Appeals declined to consider whether Fish’s damages were appropriately offset by potential duplicative benefits and ordered the district court to reconsider this matter on remand.

We will keep you updated in the event of an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.  Please contact us with any questions regarding this case or any other employer liability or workers’ compensation subrogation claims.