Mariani v. State ex rel. Okla. State Univ., 112,796.

CourtOklahoma Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtCOMBS, V.C.J.
Citation2015 OK 13,348 P.3d 194
Decision Date24 March 2015
Docket Number112,796.
PartiesCarolyn MARIANI, Plaintiff/Appellee, v. The STATE of Oklahoma ex rel. OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant/Appellant.

348 P.3d 194
2015 OK 13

Carolyn MARIANI, Plaintiff/Appellee
v.
The STATE of Oklahoma ex rel.
OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant/Appellant.

112,796.

Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

March 24, 2015.


Anthony F. Gorospe, Gorospe & Smith, P.L.L.C., Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Appellee.

Devan A. Pederson, Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Defendant/Appellant.

Opinion

COMBS, V.C.J.:

¶ 1 The question presented to this Court is whether certain provisions of The Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA), specifically 51 O.S.2011 §§ 158(E) & 162(D), permit the State of Oklahoma or a political subdivision to set off from liability amounts previously paid to a GTCA tort claimant from the claimant's own insurer, thereby abrogating the collateral source rule for claims arising under the GTCA with respect to these insurance benefits. We answer the question in the negative.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2 Plaintiff/Appellee Carolyn Mariani (Mariani) was injured in a motor vehicle accident on July 25, 2011, in Payne County, Oklahoma, when her vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer operated by an employee of Defendant/Appellant State of Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma State University (State). Mariani filed suit on May 3, 2012, under The Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA), 51 O.S. § 151 et seq . In her Petition, Mariani alleged that she was injured by the driver's negligence, that the driver was an employee of the State of Oklahoma, and that the employee was acting within the scope of his employment when the negligent acts occurred.

¶ 3 Mariani admitted that her insurer, AAA, had compensated her in the amount of $100,000 in underinsured/uninsured (UM) motorist benefits and $25,000 in medical payment coverage.1 On February 13, 2013, the State moved for an interlocutory order ruling it had the right to set off Mariani's insurance receipts from its total liability pursuant to 51 O.S.2011 §§ 158(E) & 162(D). Mariani objected, and on April 9, 2013, the trial court issued an interlocutory order denying the State's motion for the right to a setoff. The trial court certified its order for immediate review and the State filed a Petition for Certiorari Certified Interlocutory Order on April 15, 2013. This Court denied the State's petition to review the certified interlocutory order on May 20, 2013.2

¶ 4 Prior to trial, the parties stipulated that the driver was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The parties further stipulated that the State has no liability insurance or other applicable insurance coverage that would pay costs, judgments, or settlements arising from the accident, and also stipulated that the State was liable for any injuries to Mariani which she could prove were proximately caused by the accident subject to the limitations of the GTCA and the defenses raised by the State in the pretrial conference order. The parties additionally stipulated to the $125,000 Mariani received in UM and Medical Payment benefits from AAA.

¶ 5 This cause proceeded to a non-jury trial, which occurred on April 2, 2014. At trial, Mariani alleged she had incurred medical expenses in the amount of $136,779.74 for injuries to her neck, back, and left shoulder. The State once again asserted it was entitled to a setoff of Mariani's insurance benefits

348 P.3d 196

pursuant to the GTCA.3 The State renewed its motion for a setoff at the conclusion of evidence, and the trial court directed the parties to address the issue in closing arguments. The trial court denied the State's renewed motion for a setoff from the bench and noted the denial in its Journal Entry of Judgment filed on April 10, 2014. The trial court found in favor of Mariani in the amount of $175,000 and entered judgment against the State.

¶ 6 The State filed its Petition in Error on April 30, 2014, raising as its only issue on appeal the question of whether it is entitled to a setoff of Mariani's insurance benefits against its own liability pursuant to 51 O.S.2011 §§ 158(E) & 162(D). The State also filed a motion to retain this cause on April 30, 2014, which this Court granted on June 19, 2014. The cause was assigned to this office on January 22, 2015.

I.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 7 The issue in this cause hinges on the meaning and application of 51 O.S.2011 §§ 158(E) & 162(D). A question of statutory interpretation is a question of law. Hubbard v. Kaiser–Francis Oil Co., 2011 OK 50, ¶ 6, 256 P.3d 69 ; Fulsom v. Fulsom, 2003 OK 96 ¶ 2, 81 P.3d 652 ; Samman v. Multiple Injury Trust Fund, 2001 OK 71, ¶ 8, 33 P.3d 302. Accordingly, our standard of review is de novo as this Court possesses plenary, independent, and non-deferential authority to examine the trial court's legal rulings. Fulsom, 2003 OK 96, ¶ 2, 81 P.3d 652 ; Samman, 2001 OK 71, ¶ 8, 33 P.3d 302.

II.

THE COLLATERAL SOURCE RULE HAS LONG BEEN PART OF THE LAW OF TORTS IN OKLAHOMA

¶ 8 The State asserts on appeal that specific provisions of the GTCA, 51 O.S.2011 §§ 158(E) & 162(D), permit it to set off the amount Mariani received in UM and Medical Payment benefits from AAA against the State's total liability. In general, Oklahoma adheres to what is commonly referred to as the collateral source rule: compensation given to the injured party from a collateral source wholly independent of the wrongdoer does not operate to lessen the damages recoverable from the person who causes the injury. Blythe v. University of Oklahoma, 2003 OK 115, ¶ 7, 82 P.3d 1021 ; Denco Bus Lines, Inc. v. Hargis, 1951 OK 11, ¶ 22–26, 204 Okla. 339, 229 P.2d 560 (citing 23 O.S.1941 § 61 and 15 Am.Jur. Damages 198 & 201 ). See 23 O.S.2011 § 61.4

¶ 9 In Denco Bus Lines, Inc., this Court upheld a trial court's denial of an offer of proof from the defendant bus operator that a plaintiff involved in a bus accident received sick benefits from her employer during the time she was disabled as a result of injuries sustained in the bus accident. This Court noted:

“It is well settled that damages recoverable for a wrong are not diminished by the fact that the party injured has been wholly or partly indemnified for his loss by insurance effected by him and to the procurement of which the wrongdoer did not contribute.... The same has been held true of compensation received by an employee from a benefit fund maintained by the employer.”

1951 OK 11, ¶ 25, 229 P.2d 560 (quoting 15 Am.Jur. Damages § 201 ).

¶ 10 In Blythe, this Court applied the collateral source rule in a workers' compensation proceeding pursuant to a different statutory incarnation of the rule, 85 O.S. § 45(A) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Repealed by Laws 2011, SB 878, c. 318, § 87). 2003 OK 115, ¶¶ 7–8, 82 P.3d 1021. Examining both incarnations of the rule, this Court stated:

348 P.3d 197
[u]nder both the collateral source rule and under the terms of the Workers' Compensation statutory provision, compensation is determined without any reduction for the amount of any benefits the injured party received from his or her health insurance carrier. Stated another way, under both the collateral source rule and statutory scheme, no credit or set-off is given to the liable party for the amounts previously paid by the injured party's health insurance carrier.

Blythe, 2003 OK 115, ¶ 8, 82 P.3d 1021.

¶ 11 In Weatherly v. Flournoy, 1996 OK CIV APP 109, ¶¶ 4–9, 929 P.2d 296 (cert. denied Nov. 5, 1996), the Court of Civil Appeals applied the collateral source rule, based on this Court's previous analysis, to a non-governmental tortfeasor's attempt to obtain a setoff for the amount an injured party recovered from its UM motorist policy. The court in Weatherly concluded:

[b]ased on the development of the collateral source rule in Oklahoma, and having reviewed the law of other jurisdictions, we find that a tortfeasor may not set-off any amount he is found to owe the injured party by any amount the injured party may have received from his own uninsured/underinsured motorist policy. The tortfeasor should not benefit from a policy held and paid for by the injured party.

1996 OK CIV APP 109, ¶ 9, 929 P.2d 296 (footnotes omitted).

¶ 12 The Weatherly court was correct in its assessment of the evolution of the collateral source rule in Oklahoma. The general rule is that a tortfeasor is not permitted to set off an amount owed to an injured party by any amount that injured party may have received from the party's own UM policy, a collateral source of benefits. The question presented on appeal, however, is whether this general rule is abrogated for claims against governmental tortfeasors under the GTCA by 51 O.S.2011 §§ 158(E) & 162(D).

III.

TITLE 51 O.S.2011 §§ 158(E) and 162(D) DO NOT ABROGATE THE COLLATORAL SOURCE RULE FOR CLAIMS ARISING UNDER THE OKLAHOMA GOVERNMENTAL TORT CLAIMS ACT, 51 O.S. § 151 et seq.

¶ 13 The State argues that abrogation of the collateral source rule with regard to insurance benefits received by the claimant in GTCA claims against the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 practice notes
  • Lee v. Bueno, No. 114,563
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • September 20, 2016
    ...does not operate to lessen the damages recoverable from the person who causes the injury. Mariani v. State ex rel. Okla. State University , 2015 OK 13, ¶ 8, 348 P.3d 194 ; Blythe v. University of Okla. , 2003 OK 115, ¶ 7, 82 P.3d 1021 ; Denco , 1951 OK 11, ¶ 26, 204 Okla. 339, 229 P.2d 560.......
  • Indep. Sch. Dist. of Okla. Cnty. v. Hofmeister, No. 117,081
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • June 23, 2020
    ...Maule v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 9 , 1985 OK 110, 714 P.2d 198, 203 (notes omitted).184 Mariani v. State ex rel. Okla. State Univ ., 2015 OK 13, n.7, 348 P.3d 194, 200.185 See Grisham v. City of Oklahoma City, and Woods Development Co. v. Meurer Abstract , supra at note 43, and Velasco v. Rui......
  • Young v. Spencer, Case Number: 114169
    • United States
    • United States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Civil Appeals of Oklahoma
    • June 9, 2017
    ...This presents a 405 P.3d 704question of statutory construction which is a question of law. Mariani v. State ex rel. Oklahoma State Univ., 2015 OK 13, ¶ 7, 348 P.3d 194. Our standard of review is de novo on a question of law which we review without deference to the trial court's reasoning or......
3 cases
  • Lee v. Bueno, No. 114,563
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • September 20, 2016
    ...does not operate to lessen the damages recoverable from the person who causes the injury. Mariani v. State ex rel. Okla. State University , 2015 OK 13, ¶ 8, 348 P.3d 194 ; Blythe v. University of Okla. , 2003 OK 115, ¶ 7, 82 P.3d 1021 ; Denco , 1951 OK 11, ¶ 26, 204 Okla. 339, 229 P.2d 560.......
  • Indep. Sch. Dist. of Okla. Cnty. v. Hofmeister, No. 117,081
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • June 23, 2020
    ...Maule v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 9 , 1985 OK 110, 714 P.2d 198, 203 (notes omitted).184 Mariani v. State ex rel. Okla. State Univ ., 2015 OK 13, n.7, 348 P.3d 194, 200.185 See Grisham v. City of Oklahoma City, and Woods Development Co. v. Meurer Abstract , supra at note 43, and Velasco v. Rui......
  • Young v. Spencer, Case Number: 114169
    • United States
    • United States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Civil Appeals of Oklahoma
    • June 9, 2017
    ...This presents a 405 P.3d 704question of statutory construction which is a question of law. Mariani v. State ex rel. Oklahoma State Univ., 2015 OK 13, ¶ 7, 348 P.3d 194. Our standard of review is de novo on a question of law which we review without deference to the trial court's reasoning or......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT