KIMBERLY A. RONZINO, Employee, v. ACTION MAILING SERV., INC. and TRAVELERS PROP. & CAS., Employer/Insurer, and NORTH MEM. HEALTH CARE, Intervenor/Appellant, and METROPOLITAN NEUROSURGERY, MINNEAPOLIS CLINIC OF NEUROLOGY, and MINNEAPOLIS RADIOLOGY ASSOCS., Intervenors.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
SEPTEMBER 4, 2003
INTERVENORS; SETTLEMENTS. Under the circumstances of this case, the compensation judge did not err in concluding that the intervenor was not effectively excluded from settlement negotiations so as to warrant full reimbursement of its claim.
Determined by Wilson, J., Johnson, C.J., and Pederson, J.
Compensation Judge: Paul V. Rieke.
DEBRA A. WILSON, Judge
The intervenor North Memorial Health Care appeals from the compensation judge=s decision that the settlement offer to the intervenor was reasonable and made in good faith. We affirm.
The employee was employed by Action Mailing Service, Inc. [the employer] as an envelope stuffer. On December 13, 2000, while stuffing envelopes, the employee suddenly became unconscious and fell backwards, hitting her head on the cement floor. She was observed to twitch as if she was having a seizure and was taken to North Memorial Medical Center, where she was hospitalized for several days. The employee was prescribed Dilantin and returned to work for the employer.
On June 29, 2001, the employee filed a claim petition alleging that truck exhaust fumes were a substantial contributing cause of her fall at work on December 13, 2000, and that she was entitled to temporary total, temporary partial, and permanent partial disability benefits and medical and rehabilitation benefits. On July 19, 2001, the employer and insurer filed an answer denying primary liability, contending that the employee=s injury did not rise out of or in the course of her employment with the employer.
On September 27, 2001, the employee was examined by independent medical examiner Dr. Bruce Van Dyne. He diagnosed the employee as suffering from a seizure disorder and opined that the employee=s exposure to truck fumes on December 13, 2000, would not have either triggered a fainting spell or precipitated a seizure. In his opinion, the December 13, 2000, episode was a manifestation of the employee=s underlying seizure process and was not caused or aggravated by her work activities or environment.
North Memorial Health Care [NMH], formerly known as North Memorial Medical Center, intervened in the matter, alleging entitlement to reimbursement of $12,892.63 for treatment provided to the employee from December 13, 2000, through February 25, 2001. Prior to a hearing on the claim petition, the parties, including three other intervenors, entered into settlement negotiations by means of telephone conferences and a settlement conference before a compensation judge. NMH was actively involved in the settlement negotiations and was offered 20% of its claim ($2,578.52) by the employer and insurer, with the provision that NMH waive payment of the remaining balance. During the negotiations, NMH took the position that it would accept the 20% payment in satisfaction of any claim it had against the employer and insurer but that it would not agree to waive its right to pursue the employee for the remaining 80% of the bill.
All of the parties, except NMH, entered into a stipulation for settlement, wherein the employee accepted $5,000 as a full, final, and complete settlement and the intervenors agreed to payment of 20% of their claims by the employer and insurer. The settlement contained a provision indicating that all payments were in full, final, and complete settlement of past, present, and future claims.
The stipulation for settlement proceeded to a Parker-Lindberg hearing before a compensation judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings. The judge apparently understood the issue before him to be whether the offer made to NMH was reasonable. If the offer was reasonable, the judge would issue an award on stipulation, but if the offer was not reasonable, and if NMH had been effectively excluded from settlement negotiations, he would order 100% reimbursement to NMH. In an award on stipulation and findings and order, filed April 10, 2002, the judge found the settlement offer to NMH to be reasonable and made in good faith, given the circumstances. The judge also approved the stipulation for settlement and indicated that NMH had 120 days in which to advise the Office of Administrative Hearings that it was ready to proceed to pretrial and trial on its intervention interest. No party appealed from that finding and order.
The hearing on NMH=s intervention interest took place on February 26, 2003. In findings and order filed on March 6, 2003, the same compensation judge incorporated the findings from his earlier decision and found that the employee=s December 13, 2000, injury did not arise out of and in the course of her employment. The judge went on to find that NMH had not proven its intervention claim, noting in his memorandum that the Atotal lack of medical support for the contention that the employee=s physical condition for which she was treated at North Memorial was work related only further convinces the Court that the prior offer of settlement by the employer and insurer was reasonable.@ NMH appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing cases on appeal, the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals must determine whether Athe findings of fact and order [are] clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted.@ Minn. Stat. ' 176.421, subd. 1 (1992). Substantial evidence supports the findings if, in the context of the entire record, Athey are supported by evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.@ Hengemuhle v. Long Prairie Jaycees, 358 N.W.2d 54, 59, 37 W.C.D. 235, 239 (Minn. 1984). Where evidence conflicts or more than one inference may reasonably be drawn from the evidence, the findings are to be affirmed. Id., at 60, 37 W.C.D. at 240. Similarly, A[f]actfindings are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.@ Northern States Power Co. v. Lyon Food Prods., Inc., 304 Minn. 196, 201, 229 N.W.2d 521, 524 (1975). Findings of fact should not be disturbed, even though the reviewing court might disagree with them, Aunless they are clearly erroneous in the sense that they are manifestly contrary to the weight of the evidence or not reasonably supported by the evidence as a whole.@ Id.
It is not necessary for all parties and intervenors to execute a stipulation for settlement; however, an intervenor who is excluded from participation in settlement negotiations is entitled to full reimbursement of its intervention interest. Brooks v. A.M.F., 278 N.W.2d 310, 315, 31 W.C.D. 521, 531 (Minn. 1979). Where an intervenor actually participates in settlement negotiations but the settlement offer to the intervenor is not reasonable, given all the facts and circumstances of the case, the intervenor may be deemed to have been Aeffectively excluded@ from the settlement. Parker-Lindberg v. Friendship Village, 395 N.W.2d 713, 39 W.C.D. 125 (Minn. 1986). Whether an intervenor has been excluded from settlement negotiations is a question of fact to be resolved by the compensation judge. Id.
NMH admits that it participated fully in settlement discussions and contends that the offer of 20% of its bill was not unreasonable. It argues, however, that it was unreasonable to expect it to waive its opportunity to pursue collection of the remaining 80% of its bill. NMH further contends that, because the parties agreed that the treatment rendered by NMH was reasonable and necessary, it was Aunfair-and unjust enrichment to the employee-as part of the offer to have her potential liability reduced to zero.@
NMH=s argument is not entirely without merit. NMH is not a health insurance company that would have provided coverage to the employee in the event that her injury was determined to be nonwork-related. Rather, NMH is a medical provider that apparently entered into a contract with the employee directly to provide medical services to her for a fee. However, the offer of 20% constituted a guarantee of payment, which would have allowed NMH to avoid the delay and expense associated with the need for further litigation. In addition, by insisting on 20% from the employer and insurer while at the same time maintaining the right to pursue the remaining 80% from the employee, NMH was in essence seeking to retain the option of collecting 100% of its bill, a position hardly conducive to settlement by the primary parties to the action. Moreover, the weakness of the case on the merits, with respect to causation, is evident. NMH did not even submit any expert opinion evidence on the issue. Finally, we note that each of the intervenors was a medical provider, each was offered the same deal -- 20% payment for a full, final, and complete settlement -- and all of the other intervenors accepted the offer.
Under all these circumstances, we cannot conclude that the compensation judge erred in finding that NMH was not effectively excluded from settlement negotiations, and we affirm his decision denying NMH=s claim for full reimbursement.
 See Parker/Lindberg v. Friendship Village, 395 N.W.2d 713, 39 W.C.D. 125 (Minn. 1986).
 The employer and insurer initially raise the issue of whether NMH=s appeal is timely, contending that NMH=s April 1, 2003, appeal is actually an attempt to appeal from the judge=s initial April 10, 2002, findings and order, wherein he first held the settlement offer to be reasonable. We conclude, however, that the timing of NMH=s appeal appears to be in keeping with the procedure contemplated by the supreme court in Parker/Lindberg.