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Watts v. EFCO Corp.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division

June 10, 2019

ROBERT WATTS and MARY WATTS, Plaintiffs-Respondents,


          GARY W. LYNCH, J.

         Liberty Mutual Insurance Company ("Liberty Mutual") appeals the trial court's summary judgment in favor of Robert and Mary Watts (individually referred to by their first names, collectively referred to as "the Watts") on competing petitions to declare, under section 287.150.3, [1] the reimbursement amount for a workers' compensation subrogation lien. Liberty Mutual contends in two points that the trial court erroneously relied on its post-settlement comparative fault determination in calculating the reimbursement amount due Liberty. Determining that Liberty Mutual's first point takes issue with error that, if it exists, was invited by Liberty Mutual and that its second point lacks any merit, we affirm.

         Standard of Review

When considering appeals from summary judgments, the Court will review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered. Facts set forth by affidavit or otherwise in support of a party's motion are taken as true unless contradicted by the non-moving party's response to the summary judgment motion. We accord the non-movant the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the record.
Our review is essentially de novo. The criteria on appeal for testing the propriety of summary judgment are no different from those which should be employed by the trial court to determine the propriety of sustaining the motion initially. The propriety of summary judgment is purely an issue of law. As the trial court's judgment is founded on the record submitted and the law, an appellate court need not defer to the trial court's order granting summary judgment.

ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993) (internal citations omitted).

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The underlying material facts are not in dispute.[2] Robert Watts was involved in an accident during the course and scope of his employment with R&R Trucking, Inc. ("R&R"), when he fell while attempting to tarp a flatbed trailer pre-loaded by EFCO Corporation ("EFCO"). Liberty Mutual, which provided workers' compensation insurance to R&R, paid Robert, subject to a subrogation lien, $248, 822.53 in workers' compensation benefits.

         The Watts filed this action against EFCO for damages, alleging claims of negligence and loss of consortium. EFCO asserted the affirmative defense, among others, "that injuries and damages, if any that [the Watts] sustained on the occasion alleged were directly caused or directly contributed to be caused by the negligence or fault of [Robert]." Thereafter, the Watts, EFCO, and Liberty Mutual, which was also EFCO's liability insurer, reached an agreement on the resolution of the issues in this action ("the agreement"). The agreement provided, inter alia, that EFCO and Liberty Mutual would pay Robert $550, 000 and that "the parties shall seek a determination from the Circuit Court of Barry County, Missouri, as to the percentage of [the Watts'] fault with respect to causing the injuries they claim to have sustained, such that the Court shall determine comparative fault on behalf of [the Watts]." In accordance with the latter provision, the Watts and EFCO thereafter presented to the trial court, at a hearing, a joint stipulation of facts and arguments on the issue of fault. After that hearing, the trial court entered an order finding that Robert was eighty percent at fault for his injuries and EFCO was twenty percent at fault ("the comparative fault order").

         After the trial court's entry of the comparative fault order, Liberty Mutual issued Robert a settlement check that withheld $136, 308.08, which EFCO later interpleaded into the registry of the trial court as a result of Robert's and Liberty Mutual's competing claims thereto related to the amount of Liberty Mutual's workers' compensation subrogation lien. Liberty Mutual then intervened in the underlying action and filed a petition seeking a declaration that the trial court's comparative fault determination "has no bearing" on Liberty Mutual's workers' compensation lien reimbursement and that Liberty Mutual is entitled to the entire sum of money held by the trial court. Robert disputed that Liberty Mutual was entitled to that amount and filed a counter petition asserting that the trial court's comparative fault determination set Liberty Mutual's reimbursement entitlement at $27, 261.34.

         Cross-motions for summary judgment followed. In ruling against Liberty Mutual, the trial court concluded, in part, as follows:

At the time this court entered its order apportioning fault, it was not aware of the sum for which the parties settled their claims, nor was it aware that the settlement amount due [Robert] for personal injury would not be reduced from the agreed upon total of said damages by the percentage of fault apportioned to him. This court made its finding apportioning comparative fault to [Robert], as was required to finalize the settlement between [the Watts] and [EFCO]. Even if this court did set that finding aside as a nullity, Kerperien[[3]] dictates that use of the formula advocated by [Robert] would still be required to calculate the subrogation amount due [Liberty Mutual] because the apportionment of comparative fault by a trier of fact did occur.

         The trial court ultimately granted the Watts' motion for summary judgment, denied Liberty's motion, and entered judgment ordering "that the sum due [Liberty Mutual] from the settlement proceeds interplead [sic] into this ...

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