may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Viking Insurance Company,
Otis Clayburn, et al.,
Filed July 15, 1997
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 9613801
Steven J. Terry, Daniels & Associates, 4725 Olson Memorial Highway, Golden Valley, MN 55422 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Short, Judge, and Schultz, Judge.[*]
This dispute arises from a low-speed motor vehicle accident in which a vehicle rear-ended a car carrying respondents Otis Clayburn, William David Evans, and William James Evans (claimants). During the eight months following the accident, Viking Insurance Company (insurer) paid the claimants a total of approximately $8,500 in wage loss and medical bill reimbursements. The insurer then discontinued benefits on the basis of an accident reconstructionist's opinion that the low-speed impact could not have resulted in injuries.
After encouraging the claimants to file for arbitration, the insurer commenced this action, seeking: (1) a declaration that the claimants' alleged injuries could not have arisen from the motor vehicle accident; and (2) restitution of all medical and wage loss benefits paid by the insurer prior to its denial of coverage. The trial court dismissed both counts and ordered the parties to submit to mandatory arbitration. We affirm the trial court's dismissal of the insurer's declaratory judgment action, but reverse the dismissal of the restitution claim and remand if necessary for trial.
D E C I S I O N
In reviewing a judgment on the pleadings, the only question before this court is whether the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for relief. Elzie v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 298 N.W.2d 29, 32 (Minn. 1980). Statutory construction presents a question of law, which we review de novo. Hibbing Educ. Ass'n v. Public Employment Relations Bd., 369 N.W.2d 527, 529 (Minn. 1985).
In a claim for no-fault benefits, it is the arbitrator's role to decide issues of fact, leaving interpretation of law to the courts. Johnson v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 426 N.W.2d 419, 421 (Minn. 1988). However, when insurance coverage is preconditioned on the establishment of certain facts, the factual dispute must be resolved by a trial court before an insured is entitled to invoke his or her right to arbitration. Myers v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 336 N.W.2d 288, 291 (Minn. 1983) (citing U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Co. v. Fruchtman, 263 N.W.2d 66, 71 (Minn. 1978)); see Costello v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 472 N.W.2d 324, 326 (Minn. 1991) (concluding coverage disputes are not arbitrable).
The insurer argues its claim that the motor vehicle accident could not have resulted in injuries is a coverage issue and the trial court erred in ordering the parties to submit the claim to mandatory arbitration. However, the record indicates: (1) an accident occurred; and (2) the accident arose out of the operation of a motor vehicle. Given these facts, there is no disputed precondition to coverage. See LaValley v. National Family Ins. Corp., 517 N.W.2d 602, 604 n.1 (Minn. App. 1994) (citing Continental W. Ins. Co. v. Klug, 415 N.W.2d 876, 877 (Minn. 1987), and noting coverage under No-Fault Act is conditioned on occurrence of accident that arose out of operation, use, or maintenance of motor vehicle), review denied (Minn. Aug. 24, 1994); cf. Costello, 472 N.W.2d at 327 (holding question whether vehicle was underinsured was unarbitrable coverage issue under underinsured motorist policy); Fruchtman, 263 N.W.2d at 72 (denying arbitration on question whether unidentified driver's vehicle made physical contact with insured's vehicle); AMCO Ins. Co. v. Ashwood-Ames, 534 N.W.2d 740, 741 (Minn. App. 1995) (holding that occurrence of accident is precondition to coverage which district court must determine before submission to arbitration), review denied (Minn. Sept. 28, 1995).
Contrary to the insurer's insistence that this case involves a coverage dispute, the real issue is whether and to what extent the claimants suffered injury from the motor vehicle accident. The resolution of that question is squarely within the competence of an arbitrator. Therefore, the trial court properly dismissed the first count of the insurer's action and ordered the parties to submit to arbitration.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
[ ] * Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.