November 20, 2018 – Guest Post – Meuser Law Office P.A. “Are PERA and MSRS Duty Disability Benefits Collateral Sources?”

Police officers or firefighters who sustain injuries in the line of duty with a third-party civil claim component to their claims, may be faced with the question if PERA and MSRS Duty Disability benefits should be offset from their wage loss recovery. Typically, workers who sustain injuries arising out of the course and scope of his or her employment may not bring a claim for negligence, meaning he or she may only have a claim for limited benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act paid by the entity’s insurer or the entity itself if the City is self-insured for the purposes of workers’ compensation. If an injured worker is a police officer or a firefighter, and the injury is sustained while performing inherently dangerous duties specific to the public service position then he or she may also have a PERA or MSRS Duty Disability claim for benefits. If someone can demonstrate that a person or business other than the employer is the cause of the injury, then the claimant may bring a claim as against that the person responsible who acted carelessly or unreasonably. At Meuser Law Office, P.A. we have brought claims on behalf of firefighters who have been injured by negligent construction of buildings, police officers who have been injured in motor vehicle collisions, and police officers injured by suspects resisting arrest.

Sometimes damages awarded by a jury may be reduced by a judge under the Collateral Source Rule, Minn. Stat. § 548.251. The jury is not informed that a Plaintiff may or may not be receiving other types of monetary benefits, such as workers’ compensation wage loss benefits. The judge later determines what amount of the jury’s verdict should be deducted for workers’ compensation benefits paid. The theory is that a Plaintiff should not “double recover” from multiple sources. The balance of the Collateral Source Rule is that while a Plaintiff should not recovery twice from multiple sources a tortfeasor, the negligent party, should not escape paying damages because a Plaintiff was able to recover from other sources. The workers’ compensation insurer would have a subrogation interest as against the negligent party and part of the jury verdict would be paid to the workers’ compensation insurer for types of benefits it had to pay because of the carelessness and negligence of the tortfeasor.

The question that the courts have yet to resolve is whether PERA or MSRS Duty Disability benefits should be deducted from an award of damages. Pension payments and payments made “pursuant to the United States Social Security Act” are explicitly excluded from the definition of a collateral source.  Minn. Stat. § 548.251, subd. 1(2). PERA or MSRS members pay into PERA or MSRS rather than Social Security, so arguably the courts should treat benefits payable from PERA or MSRS as they do Social Security benefits.

Regardless, of whether or not PERA or MSRS is a collateral source, these benefit payments should not be admissible evidence, meaning the jury should not be informed that a Plaintiff is currently receiving PERA or MSRS Duty Disability benefits or may be entitled to said benefits. This evidence is prejudicial and allows a negligent party escape responsibility because a jury might wrongly believe that a person has already been compensated for his or her loss of future income due to the injury. Under Minnesota Statute §248.251, subdivision 5, a jury shall not be informed of the existence of any collateral source or any future benefits which may or may not be payable to the plaintiff. This type of evidence is only admissible if a Plaintiff gives the jury the impression that he or she is in dire financial straits due to the injury; and even then, the evidence is only allowed for the limited purpose of cross-examining the Plaintiff to test his or her credibility with the assertion that he or she is in fact in dire financial straits.

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 who are well versed in the intricacies of the law where these three areas meet. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.