In re:  Debra M. Anderson, petitioner, Respondent, vs. Leo J. Utecht, Appellant.

This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C4-00-197

 

 

Adonya Pacheco, as General Guardian of

Vanessa Stillday, Sheldon Kingbird, and Salvador Pacheco,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Companies,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed July 25, 2000

Affirmed

Toussaint, Chief Judge

 

Carlton County District Court

File No. C2961108

 

 

Harold Sadoff, Law Office of Harold Sadoff, 400 Second Avenue South, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)

 

Brian R. McCarthy, McCarthy & Striefert PLLP, 11 East Superior Street, Suite 546, Duluth, MN 55802-2027 (for respondent)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

Teresa Kingbird died while a passenger in a single-car accident.  Among Kingbird's survivors were appellant Adonya Pacheco, an adult, and Kingbird's minor children.  Pacheco, as guardian for the minor children, sued State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Companies (State Farm) for survivors' loss benefits under Minn. Stat. § 65B.44, subd. 6 (1999).  After a bench trial, the district court concluded Pacheco produced no evidence that the minor children suffered actual economic loss as a result of Kingbird's death.  Because the district court's findings are not clearly erroneous, we affirm.

FACTS

At the time of her death, Kingbird was supporting three minor children who lived with her.  The parties agree that Kingbird's only sources of income were Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and food stamp benefits.  After Kingbird's death in August 1995, her eldest child, Pacheco, applied for and received those benefits as guardian of her younger siblings and head of the household.  Pacheco's social worker testified that once Kingbird died, Pacheco was eligible as head of the household to receive the same benefits that Kingbird had, and did in fact receive those benefits when she complied with the programs' rules.  Pacheco began receiving benefits for the dependents in September 1995 and generally has continued to receive them, except in months in which she has been ineligible, such as months when she lived with her grandparents and was thus not head of the household, months in which the minor children did not live with her, and months in which she received a per-capita distribution from the Fond Du Lac tribe.  (The family's benefits were reduced in July 1996 because one of Pacheco's siblings turned 18 and was no longer eligible.)

On June 3, 1996, Pacheco applied to State Farm for survivors' economic loss benefits.  When State Farm did not immediately approve the application, Pacheco sued.  After losing a summary judgment motion, Pacheco appealed, first prematurely, then properly after judgment was entered.  This courtapparently relying on a misstatement by Pacheco's lawyer that Pacheco had not formally applied for the benefitsvacated as not ripe the district court's decision that Pacheco and the dependents were not eligible for the benefits.  On remand, after a bench trial the district court again ruled that Pacheco and the dependents were not eligible for the benefits because they had not shown evidence of actual economic loss.

D E C I S I O N

Pacheco and the dependents claim that they are entitled to benefits under the survivors' economic loss provision of Minnesota's No-Fault Act, which provides as follows:

            Subd. 6. Survivors economic loss benefits.  Survivors economic loss benefits, in the event of death occurring within one year of the date of the accident, caused by and arising out of injuries received in the accident, are subject to a maximum of $200 per week and shall cover loss accruing after decedent's death of contributions of money or tangible things of economic value, not including services, that surviving dependents would have received from the decedent for their support during their dependency had the decedent not suffered the injury causing death.

 

Minn. Stat. § 65B.44, subd. 6 (1999). 

State Farm argues that because Pacheco applied for and received the same public benefits that Kingbird had been providing to the household, the household suffered no actual economic loss, and therefore is not entitled to survivors' economic loss benefits.

In support of this argument, State Farm points to the definition of loss under the Minnesota No-Fault Act:

            "Loss" means economic detriment resulting from the accident causing the injury, consisting only of medical expense, income loss, replacement services loss and, if the injury causes death, funeral expense, survivor's economic loss and survivor's replacement services loss.  Noneconomic detriment is not loss; however, economic detriment is loss although caused by pain and suffering or physical or mental impairment.

 

Minn. Stat. § 65B.43, subd. 7 (1999).  Because the household had the same benefits available to it after Kingbird's death as it did while she was alive, State Farm argues, the household suffered no "economic detriment" and therefore no "loss."

State Farm also cites Hoper v. Mutual Serv. Cas. Ins. Co., 359 N.W.2d 318 (Minn. App. 1984), to support its position.  In Hoper, a farmer's wife died in a car accident, leaving behind a husband and a daughter.  The deceased wife had not worked outside the home, but had helped on the farm in various ways.  The husband eventually remarried, and the new wife filled the same functions on the farm as the deceased wife, though she did not legally adopt the daughter.  Id. at 319-20.  The farmer applied for survivors' economic loss benefits for his daughter.  After a trial, the district court awarded the benefits (as well as survivors' replacement services loss benefits).  This court reversed, holding that the family had not shown that the first wife's death had caused a loss of "things of economic value."  Id. at 321. 

But Pacheco points out that the statute does not say that survivors' economic loss benefits are to be paid simply for "loss."  Instead, it says that they are to be paid for

 

"loss * * * of contributions of money or tangible things of economic value * * * that surviving dependents would have received from the decedent for their support during their dependency." 

 

Minn. Stat. § 65B.44, subd. 6 (emphasis added).  Pacheco argues that had Kingbird not died, she would have contributed the amounts she received from AFDC and food stamps to the dependents for their support.  Because Kingbird's contribution of money to the dependents' support has been lost, it does not matter that it has been made up from some other source.

This argument, however, conflicts with Hoper's reasoning.  Although "a theoretical loss has occurred," Hoper, 359 N.W.2d at 321, because of Kingbird's death, "it is not a tangible loss, as required by the statute, at least in the absence of evidence that [the household's] actual support has diminished."  Id.

Pacheco argues that Hoper is distinguishable because it is based on this court's ruling that the family had not attempted to prove a value for the various contributions that the deceased wife had made to the farm, and thus there had been no showing that there had been a loss of "tangible things of economic value."  But this argument overlooks the fact that this court also rejected the Hopers' argument that the daughter had lost the deceased mother's contribution of her half of the farm's income to the daughter's support, because the deceased mother was obligated to support the daughter, but the new wife, who had not adopted the daughter, was not.  Even though this was a theoretical loss of support, this court held it was not the loss of a "tangible thing of economic value," at least not without proof that the daughter's actual support had diminished.

One of the stated legislative purposes of the no-fault act is to "provide offsets to avoid duplicate recovery."  Minn. Stat. § 65B.42(5) (1998).  We must consider this expressly stated legislative purpose when interpreting the survivors' economic loss provision of the statute.  Petition of Minn. Power & Light Co., 435 N.W.2d 550, 556 (Minn. App. 1989) ("In construing a provision of a statute, we look to the statute as a whole and give effect to all of its provisions."), review denied (Minn. Apr. 19, 1989); Kachman v. Blosberg, 251 Minn. 224, 229 87 N.W.2d 687, 692 (1958) (statutory provision "cannot be read out of context but must be taken together with other related provisions to determine its meaning").

If this court accepts Pacheco's argument, the family will in effect have achieved a double recovery.  It is undisputed that the dependents are receiving public benefits through Pacheco that they could not have received while Kingbird was alive.  While Kingbird was alive, she was the head of the household and would have received the benefits.  Stated differently, either Kingbird or Pacheco could receive the public benefits, but not both of them.  If the dependents receive those public benefits and survivors' economic loss benefits, they are in essence achieving a double recovery that puts them in a better financial position as a result of Kingbird's death.  That would contradict the expressly stated legislative purpose of the no-fault act.

In addition, "[b]ecause many provisions of the no-fault act are based upon provisions of the Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Reparations Act (UMVARA) * * * such UMVARA provisions may be considered in ascertaining the legislative purpose behind related sections of the no-fault act."  Record v. Metropolitan Transit Comm'n, 284 N.W.2d 542, 545 (Minn. 1979), superseded by statute as stated in Hoben v. City ofMinneapolis, 324 N.W.2d 161, 162 (Minn. 1982).  The comments to the definition of "survivor's economic loss" under UMVARA confirm that such benefits were intended to replace actual economic loss:

"Survivor's economic loss * * * [is] defined in a way analogous to standards for wrongful death except that * * * allowable items are more rigorously limited to genuine economic loss.  As under typical wrongful death statutes, the measure of damages is loss to the survivors, which results from death.

 

Unif. Motor Vehicle Accident Reparations Act § 1(a)(5)(iv) cmt, 214 U.L.A. 4,6 (1972).

Because Kingbird's death simultaneously deprived the dependents of the public benefits she was contributing to the household but also allowed Pacheco to apply for and receive those same benefits, Kingbird's death did not result in any actual economic loss to the dependents.  Without such a loss, the no-fault act does not permit an award of survivors' economic loss benefits.

Affirmed.