This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Virginia Tripp, claimant,
RAM Mutual Insurance Company,
Filed December 20, 2005
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)
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
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 (
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.
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 (
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 (
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.
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.