This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Reinsurance Association of Minnesota,
n/k/a RAM Mutual Insurance Company,
Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company,
Scott County District Court
File No. 2000-19660
Thomas D. Jensen, William L. Davidson, Kimberly Fleming, Lind, Jensen, Sullivan & Peterson, 150 South Fifth Street, Suite 1700, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Scott B. Lundquist, Lundquist Law Offices, 1012 Grain Exchange Building, 400 South Fourth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Parker, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
This declaratory judgment action was tried before the district court without a jury. Plaintiff Reinsurance Association of Minnesota (RAM)’s policy covered Elmer Jabs’s farm machinery, and RAM settled separately with plaintiff Alan Jabs. The district court found the accident in which Alan Jabs was injured arose in part because of Elmer Jabs’s truck, which was insured by Farm Bureau. The court further found the farm machinery exclusion in Farm Bureau’s policy did not preclude coverage, citing Waseca Mut. Ins. Co. v. Noska, 331 N.W.2d 917, 923 (Minn. 1983), and awarded contribution by Farm Bureau to RAM. Farm Bureau appealed, contending that there can be no contribution without an assignment to RAM from its insured; that their insured, Elmer Jabs, had not been adjudicated liable; and that the damages resulted from use of the farm equipment. We reverse.
Farm Bureau contends the district court erred in finding that: (1) no assignment was required for RAM to pursue Farm Bureau, arguing that, without an assignment, there must be a contractual relationship between two insurers in order for one to seek contribution from the other; (2) there was concurrent liability, arguing its policy does not provide coverage for Elmer because he was not adjudicated “legally liable” to pay damages; and (3) its exception for an accident due to farming equipment did not apply, arguing that both truck and tractor were necessarily related causally to the happening of the accident.
“Findings of fact are considered clearly erroneous only if they are not reasonably supported by the evidence.” Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 102 (Minn. 1999) (citation omitted). “The standard [of] review of a bench trial is broader than the standard for jury verdicts.” Runia v. Marguth Agency, Inc., 437 N.W.2d 45, 48 (Minn. 1989).
This matter was not brought by an insured seeking indemnification from his or her insurance company. RAM defended Elmer Jabs (Elmer) against a lawsuit brought by his son, Alan Jabs (Alan), for injuries sustained when Elmer’s tractor, which was being jump-started, suddenly moved and pinned Alan against Elmer’s truck. Farm Bureau reviewed the claim and denied liability. Following the separate settlement, RAM sought a declaratory judgment against Farm Bureau for contribution. We hold that the procedural posture in which the suit was brought prejudiced Farm Bureau because Farm Bureau might have defended its denial of coverage successfully in an indemnity suit brought by their insured, Elmer Jabs.
Although the district court found that coverage by both companies’ insurance policies was triggered, Elmer was never adjudicated liable. Elmer’s degree of liability is unknown because what caused the tractor to start is unknown and the record is not complete. The record does not indicate to what extent, if any, negligent acts by Alan may have contributed to the accident. The record suggests that Alan may have left the tractor in gear. Farm Bureau may therefore have been able to defend and avoid liability entirely or be obligated to pay a sum less than their total coverage. Because the record is not complete and a full determination of liability was never made, we cannot conclude that Farm Bureau is obligated to pay part of the settlement. We hold, therefore, that this record does not support the district court’s finding of contribution required of Farm Bureau. See Fletcher, 589 N.W.2d at 102 (stating the district court’s findings must be supported by the record).
The district court found that the Farm Bureau policy’s exception for farm equipment-related accidents did not apply because Elmer’s truck was also involved in the accident, citing Noska, 331 N.W.2d at 923. But, the applicable question in following Noska is whether one negligent act could have operated independently of the other negligent act to bring about the loss. State Farm Ins. Co. v. Seefeld, 481 N.W.2d 62, 65 (Minn. 1992). The farm equipment exclusion to coverage must be applicable because the tractor could not have been operated without the power supplied by the pickup truck; only when that power was applied did the tractor suddenly start into motion, i.e., operate, and injure Alan. We find Noska does not apply to the facts of this case and the farm equipment exception bars coverage of the Farm Bureau policy. Seefeld, 481 N.W.2d at 65.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.