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Strasburg v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

Supreme Court of Nebraska

November 1, 2013

Shawn T. Strasburg, appellee,
v.
Union Pacific Railroad Company, a Delaware corporation, appellant.

Page 274

Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County, MARLON A. POLK, Judge.

Gary J. Nedved and Joel Bacon, of Keating, O'Gara, Nedved & Peter, P.C., L.L.O., for appellant.

William Kvas, Richard J. Dinsmore, and Katie Figgins, for appellee.

Heavican, C.J., Wright, Connolly, Stephan, McCormack, Miller -Lerman, and Cassel, JJ.

Syllabus

1. Statutes: Appeal and Error. Statutory interpretation is a question of law that an appellate court resolves independently of the trial court.

2. Contracts: Compromise and Settlement: Appeal and Error. Allocation of a settlement agreement is reviewed for an abuse of discretion.

3. Torts: Damages. The collateral source rule provides that benefits received by the plaintiff from a source wholly independent of and collateral to the wrongdoer will not diminish the damages otherwise recoverable from the wrongdoer.

4. Torts: Damages: Tort-feasors: Liability. The theory underlying the collateral source rule is to prevent a tort-feasor from escaping liability because of the act of a third party, even if a possibility exists that the plaintiff may be compensated twice.

5. Torts: Damages: Insurance: Tort-feasors. Under the collateral source rule, the fact that the party seeking recovery has been wholly or partially indemnified

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for a loss by insurance or otherwise cannot be set up by the wrongdoer in mitigation of damages. But if the tort-feasor contributed in some way to the benefits provided to the injured person, then the tort-feasor might be entitled to mitigation of damages.

6. Statutes: Appeal and Error. Absent anything to the contrary, an appellate court will give statutory language its plain and ordinary meaning.

7. Federal Acts: Railroads: Employer and Employee: Liability: Compromise and Settlement. Under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), when an injured employee has alleged that both a FELA and a non-FELA defendant are responsible for the injury, the majority rule holds that a settlement with the non-FELA defendant results in a dollar-for-dollar offset in the judgment against the nonsettling FELA defendant.

8. Federal Acts: Railroads: Liability: Compromise and Settlement. There is no loss of consortium recovery in an action under the Federal Employers' Liability [286 Neb. 744] Act, and any settlement reached on a loss of consortium claim is not subject to setoff against the defendant in such action.

9. Contracts: Compromise and Settlement: Proof. The burden to show that the allocation set forth in a settlement agreement was not reasonable lies with the party seeking credit against the settlement.

10. Judgments: Appeal and Error. As a general proposition, an appellate court does not require a district court to explain its reasoning. Only in certain situations is a court required to make findings of fact, typically by request, or as required by statute or court rule.

Heavican, C.J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Shawn T. Strasburg filed an action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. ยง 51 et seq. (2006), against Union Pacific Railroad Company (Union Pacific). Strasburg alleged that he was injured in the course of his employment and that his injuries were caused by Union Pacific's negligence. A jury trial was held, and a verdict was entered for Strasburg in the amount of $1,032,375.43. Following trial, the district court allowed Union Pacific to set off the verdict in the amount of $425,000 because of a settlement reached with another defendant, and additionally enforced a medical lien in the amount of $139,845.03 against that settlement. Union Pacific appeals.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On March 12, 2009, Strasburg was employed as a carman for Union Pacific. On that day, he was attending a Union Pacific safety class taught by Union Pacific employees. That class was held at a community college in North Platte, Nebraska, [286 Neb. 745] in a classroom which was solely dedicated to the instruction of Union Pacific employees. Ironically, while Strasburg was attending this safety class, the chair upon which Strasburg was seated collapsed,

Page 276

causing injury to Strasburg's back which necessitated disk replacement surgery.

Strasburg filed a FELA action against Union Pacific and also filed suit against the manufacturer of the chair, Steelcase Inc. (Steelcase). In addition, Strasburg's wife, Robin Strasburg, filed suit against Steelcase, alleging loss of consortium. Strasburg and Robin settled their case against Steelcase for $725,000. Per the terms of the agreement, the settlement was allocated at $425,000 for Strasburg's claim and $300,000 for Robin's claim.

Prior to trial, Union Pacific filed for a medical lien against the Steelcase settlement in the amount of $135,151.01, the amount it had paid out on Strasburg's behalf as of that time. A hearing was held, but the district court declined to enforce the lien at that time, concluding that the lien ...


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