February 11, 2019 Guest Post – Meuser Law Office, P.A. “Evidence of PERA Duty Disability Payments Are Inadmissible at Trial”

In cases where Minnesota police officers or firefighters are injured in the line of duty through the fault of a third-party, typically a suspect or the driver of another vehicle, then he or she has a separate cause of action against the negligent person, outside of PERA/MSRS benefits and workers’ compensation benefits. In those cases, sometimes defendants try to argue to the jury that the officer or firefighter did not truly sustain any economic damage because he or she has been adequately compensated for his or her loss by PERA or MSRS Duty Disability benefits.

However, evidence of plaintiff’s receipt of PERA Duty Disability benefits under the Police and Fire Plan are inadmissible at trial. These benefits should also not be deducted as collateral sources, meaning sources that are subtracted from a jury verdict to prevent a plaintiff from unfairly double recovering. PERA Duty Disability benefits are benefits for which the employee has contributed.

Again, PERA benefits should not be admissible at trial. Minnesota Statute §548.251, subdivision 5 explicitly excludes “future benefits that may or may not be payable” from evidence and the introduction of these benefits unfairly prejudices Plaintiff as it prevents the jury from awarding accurate future damages under Rule 403 of the Minnesota Rules of Evidence. Minnesota Statute §548.251 also known as the Collateral Source Rule has two distinct parts with two different applications. The first part of the rule is an evidentiary standard that determines what types of benefits are admissible before a jury. The rule then separately determines what types benefits may be offset from a jury award as discussed above.

Subdivision 5 of the Collateral Source Statute sets forth the evidentiary standard for what types of payments or benefits are admissible at trial, “the jury shall not be informed of the existence of any collateral sources orany future benefits which may or may not be payable to the plaintiff.” Minn. Stat. §548.251, subd. 5. (emphasis added). Subdivision 5 is broken into two clauses, benefits that are defined as collateral sources in subdivision 1 of Minnesota Statute §548.251 for the purposes of a future collateral source offset or “any future benefits which may or may not be payable to the plaintiff.” (Id.). Both types of benefits are excluded from evidence at trial. (Id.). PERA Duty Disability benefits are “future benefits which may or may not be payable to the plaintiff” under subdivision 5 of Minnesota Statute §548.251, and therefore are inadmissible at trial.

Like social security disability benefits and pension payments, PERA benefits are not admissible. Evidence of social security disability income and pension payments may not be admitted into evidence unless the plaintiff, through either the use of misleading statements or outright false statements or falsely conveys to the jury that he or she is destitute or in dire financial straits. Bartosch v. Lewison, 413 N.W.2d 530, 533 (Minn. Ct. App. 1987); Kroning v. State Farm Auto. Ins. Co., 567 N.W.2d 42 (Minn. 1997); Lukovsky v. Northwestern Bell Telephone Co., No. C5-88-2022 1989 WL 55506 (Minn. Ct. App. May 30, 1989). Even if evidence of social security or pension payments were to be allowed, the evidence is only admissible for the limited purposes of testing the credibility of the plaintiff’s assertion. Id. So long as a plaintiff does not mislead the jury into believing he or she is financial destitute, when he or she is actually receiving these benefits, then they are not admissible.

PERA Duty Disability benefits are pension benefits and are akin to social security benefits, and as such should be excluded from testimony at trial. PERA members and PERA employers, pay into PERA, rather than social security. This benefit converts to a retirement benefit at age 55 and a PERA member must continue to demonstrate his entitlement to a PERA Duty Disability award on an annual basis. An employee and an employer contribute toward this PERA pension plan while the employee worked as a police officer or a firefighter. PERA itself defines PERA Duty Disability Benefits under the Police and Fire Plan as a pension plan explicitly in its Police and Fire Plan Member Handbook. As such, under the plain language of the statute, courts should treat PERA Duty Disability pension benefits similarly to social security disability benefits and find them inadmissible.

If you or someone you love has sustained a career-ending injury in the line of duty as a police officer, firefighter, or first responder contact the attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free-no obligation consultation. In order to maximize all possible sources of recovery, you need attorneys who practice in PERA and MSRS disability, workers’ compensation, and personal injury and are well versed in the intricacies of the law where these three areas meet. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.