This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).








In the Matter of the Arbitration between:

Virginia Tripp, claimant,





RAM Mutual Insurance Company,




Filed December 20, 2005


Wright, Judge


Kittson County District Court

File No. C3-04-108



Dyan J. Ebert, Heidi N. Thoennes, Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., 400 South First Street, Suite 600, St. Cloud, MN  56301 (for appellant)


Elisabeth Spilde, Brink, Sobolik, Severson, Malm & Albrecht, P.A., P.O. Box 790, Hallock, MN  56728 (for respondent)



            Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and Wright, Judge.



U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant insurance company challenges a district court judgment confirming an arbitrator’s award of income-loss and survivor’s benefits to respondent.  Appellant argues that, because the arbitrator exceeded his authority when he determined respondent was entitled to income-loss and survivor’s benefits, the district court erred in confirming the award.  We affirm.


            In July 2002, respondent Virginia Tripp, a home-healthcare aide, and Robert Tripp, a pastor with the Assemblies of God Church began preparing for a March 2003 missionary trip to Vietnam.  By October 2002, the Tripps had resigned from their other jobs to work full-time as missionaries in preparation.  On December 7, 2002, the Tripps were involved in a one-vehicle accident when attempting to avoid hitting a deer.  Mr. Tripp died, and Mrs. Tripp sustained serious injuries, primarily to her leg.  Because of her injuries, Mrs. Tripp temporarily suspended her missionary work and did not travel to Vietnam as planned in March.  However, she eventually recovered and went to Vietnam in September 2003 to perform the missionary work.

After the accident, Mrs. Tripp sought income-loss and survivor’s benefits from her no-fault insurer, appellant RAM Mutual Insurance Company.  RAM Mutual denied the claims, and the matter proceeded to arbitration.  The arbitrator awarded Mrs. Tripp income-loss and survivor’s benefits.  RAM Mutual brought a motion in district court to vacate the arbitrator’s award on the grounds that he exceeded his powers.  See Minn. Stat. § 572.19, subd. 1(3) (2004).  The district court denied the motion to vacate and confirmed the arbitrator’s award.  This appeal followed.


In an action for no-fault benefits, the arbitrator’s authority includes fact-finding and application of the law to those facts.  Weaver v. State Farm Ins. Cos., 609 N.W.2d 878, 882 (Minn. 2000).  The arbitrator’s findings of fact are final.  Erickson v. Great Am. Ins. Cos., 466 N.W.2d 430, 432 (Minn. App. 1991).  We exercise de novo review to determine whether an arbitrator exceeded his or her powers.  Klinefelter v. Crum and Forster Ins. Co., 675 N.W.2d 330, 333 (Minn. App. 2004).  The party challenging the award has the burden of establishing that the arbitrator exceeded his or her powers.  Id. Although Minnesota has a policy that favors finality in arbitration awards, Erickson, 466 N.W.2d at 432, if we conclude that the arbitrator exceeded his or her authority, the arbitration award must be vacated.  Minn. Stat. § 572.19, subd. 1(3) (2004). 

            Under Minn. Stat. § 65B.44, subd. 3 (2004), “[d]isability and income loss benefits shall provide compensation for . . . the injured person’s loss of present and future gross income from inability to work proximately caused by the nonfatal injury . . . .”  “Income” is defined as “salary, wages, tips, commissions, professional fees, and other earnings from work . . . .”  Minn. Stat. § 65B.43, subd. 6 (2004).  At the time of the accident, the Tripps were raising money to support the missionary activities of the church.  RAM Mutual argues that Mrs. Tripp is not entitled to income-loss benefits because money generated by fundraising is not income under the no-fault laws; rather, it is a donation or gift.  Mrs. Tripp counters that, because she would receive a monthly income from the church for her missionary work on her arrival in Vietnam, the award for income-loss and survivor’s benefits was proper.

            RAM Mutual asserts that this case is governed by Roquemore v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., in which we held that a football scholarship was not income because the claimant did not receive money for playing football; rather, he received free tuition, room and board.  610 N.W.2d 694, 696 (Minn. App. 2000).  But the evidence here establishes that, unlike an athletic scholarship, the Tripps were to receive a monthly income from the church, which they would then use to pay their living expenses and any other expenses while on their missionary trip.  The district court determined that, at the time of the accident, Mrs. Tripp “was receiving a wage but had chosen to place any wages into a budget account so that it would be available when she reached her mission location.”  Thus, unlike the facts in Roquemore,there is no evidence that the Tripps were anticipating only free room and board or reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses.  Indeed, Mrs. Tripp received income from the church after arriving in Vietnam in September, which she reported as income on her federal income tax returns.  The money that Mrs. Tripp received from the church was income that she earned and could spend as she chose. 

RAM Mutual next argues that Mrs. Tripp’s income-loss claim is too speculative to entitle her to no-fault benefits.  Although unemployed at the time of an accident, a claimant may establish eligibility for income-loss benefits based on the claimant’s work history and employment prospects.  See Keim v. Farm Bureau Ins. Co., 482 N.W.2d 823, 825 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. May 21, 1992); McKenzie v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 441 N.W.2d 832, 834-35 (Minn. App. 1989).  To be eligible for income-loss benefits, a claimant “must show at the time of [the] injury [the claimant] (1) was employed, (2) had a definite offer of employment, or (3) had consistently been employed such that a specific future period of employment could reasonably be predicted.”  Keim, 482 N.W.2d at 825.  In Keim, we approved an award of benefits to a claimant who was unemployed and had no offer of employment at the time of the accident because the arbitrator determined that the claimant’s work history established that future employment was reasonably foreseeable.   Id. at 825-26. 

The facts here are analogous to those in McKenzie, where, at the time of the accident, the claimant was on a leave of absence from her part-time job with plans to finish college and begin full-time work after graduation.  441 N.W.2d at 833.  In affirming the district court’s award of income-loss benefits based on the anticipated full-time salary, the McKenzie court determined that the income-loss claim was not speculative in light of the claimant’s prior history of full-time employment and the fact that she had been offered a full-time job after the accident, which she was unable to accept.   Id. at 834-35.  

The Tripps had a history of full-time employment and had been working with the church for months.  Under the McKenzie and Keim standards, the Tripps’ future employment was not speculative.  The district court did not err in confirming the arbitrator’s award of income-loss benefits on the basis that, at the time of the accident, either Mrs. Tripp was employed with the church or she had a definite offer of employment. 

Finally, RAM Mutual argues that the district court erred in confirming the arbitrator’s award of survivor’s economic-loss benefits because Mr. Tripp did not have an income at the time of his death and there is no proof of the value of his services.  See Minn. Stat. § 65B.44, subd. 6 (defining survivor’s economic loss benefits as “contributions of money . . . that surviving [spouse] would have received from the decedent . . . had the decedent not suffered the injury causing death”).  We disagree.  The evidence establishes that both Mr. and Mrs. Tripp were working for the church at the time of the accident and were to receive their earnings upon their arrival in Vietnam.  Mrs. Tripp suffered an economic loss as a result of her husband’s death.  Thus, there is an ample basis for the arbitrator’s award of survivor’s economic-loss benefits.

As the district court found, whether the Tripps were employed by the church or had an offer of future employment were questions of fact within the authority of an arbitrator to decide.  Such findings of fact are final.  Because RAM Mutual failed to meet the burden of establishing that the arbitrator exceeded his powers, the district court did not err when it confirmed the arbitrator’s award.