The Minnesota Supreme Court issued recently its decision in Staab v. Diocese of St. Cloud, holding that a defendant who is found to be 50% or less at fault cannot be ordered to pay more than its fair share of the total damages award.
In this case, a jury found the Defendant Diocese 50% at fault for the Plaintiff's injuries. The jury also found the Plaintiff's husband was 50% at fault, even though he was not a party to the lawsuit. Plaintiff argued the Diocese should be forced to pay 100% of the damages award under Minnesota's "reallocation" statute, arguing the judgment against the non-party husband was "uncollectible." Minn. Stat. Sec. 604.02 subd. (2). The Diocese argued it was severally, but not jointly, liable, and therefore could not be forced to pay more than its fair share (50%), regardless of whether the remainder of the judgment was collectible from the plaintiff's husband. The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the Diocese. A full copy of the court's opinion can be found here.
How this decision affects claim handling / evaluation: An at fault defendant who is found to be 50% or less at fault will only be required to pay in proportion to his or her percentage of fault. This is true regardless of whether the other tortfeasors are parties to the lawsuit. If you have a minimally (50% or less) at fault insured, your exposure for damages will be limited to the insured's percentage of fault. If, however, the insured is 51% or more at fault, the insured will be held "jointly liable" and could be responsible for up to 100% of the verdict.
The Diocese of St. Cloud was represented by Dyan Ebert, Laura Moehrle and Mike LaFountaine of Quinlivan & Hughes. If you have any questions about this decision, please give us a call: (320) 251-1414 or reach us by email: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected].