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KAT considers appeal in lawsuit

WILLMAR - A District judge has ruled that the Kandiyohi Area Transit cannot recover the $100,000 it paid as a death benefit when a volunteer driver was killed in 2004.

An appeal is being considered. KAT, which has insurance coverage through the League of Minnesota Cities, had sought reimbursement of the $100,000 from Dorene Ruth Miller.

Miller was the driver involved in a head-on accident that killed Paul Lane Dunstan on July 22, 2004. Dunstan was a volunteer driver with KAT.

Because Dunstan was under KAT's insurance policy, a $100,000 one-time death benefit was paid to his estate by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust.

KAT then brought a "wrongful death" lawsuit against Miller, saying that her negligence caused the accident and "triggered the disbursement of the $100,000 payment."

They had sought recovery of the $100,000 from Miller.

In one of the briefs, Jason Hiveley, the attorney representing KAT and the League of Minnesota Cities, wrote that Miller "should not be allowed to escape liability simply because KAT obtained coverage from the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust for volunteers who are injured or killed while performing their volunteer services."

Thomas Christenson, the attorney representing Miller, said KAT wasn't allowed to collect the money under Minnesota law because KAT hadn't been appointed the wrongful-death trustee for Paul Dunstan.

In an interview, Hiveley said the insurance company made a payment to Dunstan's estate and sought to recover that money "from the person who caused the accident. He cited a Michigan case that said a wrongful death benefit could be recovered even without being named as the trustee of an estate.

In a decision May 2, Judge Kathryn Smith denied KAT's request for a summary judgment. She said Minnesota does not have a provision that would allow KAT to seek and obtain a wrongful-death benefit from Miller.

Christenson said he was "pleased" with the result of the lawsuit, which he said dealt with a "unique subject matter." He declined further comment because the time of appeal was still running.

Hiveley was also reluctant to provide a great deal until a decision was made on whether or not his client would appeal the decision.

He said Smith determined there were "no cases in Minnesota that supported what we were saying." It's possible Appeals Court might agree with the Michigan law, said Hiveley.

John Groothuis, KAT's transit director, said that other than cooperating and supplying information to the insurance company about the incident, he and the KAT board had little involvement with the lawsuit.

Groothuis said the accident was an "unfortunate incident."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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