This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Steven S. Brideau,
American Standard Insurance Co., a Member of
the American Family Group of Insurance Companies,
Filed January 11, 2000
Kandiyohi County District Court
File No. C997407
Steven C. Wang, Schneider Law Firm, 706 First Street South, P.O. Box 776, Willmar, MN 56201 (for appellant)
Travis J. Benson, L. Wayne Larson, Anderson Larson Hanson & Saunders, P.L.L.P., 331 Professional Plaza, 331 S.W. Third Street, P.O. Box 130, Willmar, MN 56201 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Short, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant disputes a summary judgment that his general release of one tortfeasor defeats his ability to collect on an earlier judgment against a second tortfeasor. We affirm.
As a result of an injury suffered in a 1990 car accident, appellant stated claims against two tortfeasors, Michael Higgens and Derek Thompson. In October 1996, Higgens confessed a judgment in the amount of $30,000. Approximately one month later, appellant settled his claim with Thompson in exchange for a general release that discharged all claims against Thompson or "any other person, firm or corporation charged or chargeable with responsibility or liability" connected with the 1990 accident. When appellant sued respondent American Standard Insurance Company in an effort to enforce the Higgens judgment, the trial court granted respondent a summary judgment because of appellant’s general release of all claims.
D E C I S I O N
If the trial court grants a summary judgment on a principle of law, this court need not give deference to the court’s application of the law. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass’n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
Because a "rigid rule could prevent a plaintiff from being made whole," Johnson v. Brown, 401 N.W.2d 86, 89 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Apr. 23, 1987) the courts will not enforce a general release in favor of a second tortfeasor in the absence of evidence that the release agreement manifests an intention to release all tortfeasors or that the injured party had been fully compensated. See Gronquist v. Olson, 242 Minn. 119, 128, 64 N.W.2d 159, 165 (1954).
As the trial court observed, the release given by appellant in this case contains no limiting language and patently demonstrates his intent to fully release all parties. Under the circumstances, as the trial court remarked, there is no authority for examining appellant’s extrinsic evidence to show that he did not intend to release the Higgens judgment. See, e.g., Mrozik Constr., Inc. v. Lovering Assocs., Inc., 461 N.W.2d 49, 52 (Minn. App. 1990) (if there is no ambiguity in the language of a contractual agreement, reviewing courts should not look at extrinsic evidence to determine parties’ intent).
Pointing to the fact that the settlement with Higgens was in the form of a Miller-Shugart stipulation, appellant suggests that respondent, Higgens’ insurer, can only question the reasonableness of the settlement at the time it was made and cannot otherwise question Higgens’ liability. In other words, appellant suggests that the need for limited scrutiny of a Miller-Shugart agreement gives it life after it has been fully released. Appellant cites no authority for this proposition and none has been found. Called upon to make payment on a judgment obligation of its insured, the law does not limit the right of an insurer to assert the fact that the judgment has been defeated as a matter of law by a subsequent release.
Appellant points out that no occurrence in the disposition of the Thompson claim could have defeated the Higgens judgment. Thus, for example, the judgment would stand in spite of a finding in the Thompson proceedings that Higgens had no fault. But the events in the Thompson proceedings are beside the point. In the course of those proceedings, appellant gave a general release that was stated in terms of claims against Thompson and all other tortfeasors.
Finally, appellant insists that the effect of a general release on other joint tortfeasors should not include another tortfeasor against whom judgment has already been taken. Although we recognize the difference between the circumstances here and those in Gronquist, which dealt with joint tortfeasors who had not yet settled, we have been directed to no authority to suggest that this difference is legally significant.