Midland Credit Management vs. Chatman, MN Court of Appeals filed 3/22/2011 is a case that reaffirms earlier decisions regarding the ability to exempt (protect) proceeds from personal injury settlements as distinguished from being able to exempt the “right of action” in personal injury matters as it pertains to bankruptcy filings.
The court followed earlier court decisions wherein they took a “plain meaning” interpretation of the statutory language and also looked at other exemption statutes that sought to exempt proceeds and payments traceable to exempt sources. Those other statutes (as opposed to one under review here which was Minn Stat. Section 550.37, subd. 22) specifically stated that for example “all money arising from any claim on account of the destruction of, or damage to, exempt property”, or in another section under the statutes providing for exemptions that the “right to receive present or future payments, or payments received by the debtor” would be exempt. (Minn Stats. Sections 550.37, subd. 9 and 550.37, subd. 25). So there…the language is inclusive and is plain on it’s face. The court determined that had the legislature wanted to provide the same treatment for payments received on account of personal injury that it could have provided the same or similar language in the pertinent statute. Since the legislature could have but didn’t include that language the court decided that the intent was not to protect the actual payments received on account of personal injury types of funds/payments to give them exempt status and therefore, they are not exempt.
Lesson to take from this decision…and which has also been my practice for many years is that all the circumstances have to be taken into account when contemplating a bankruptcy. Exemptions are one important part of the analysis. When a client has a personal injury matter and it is of a level whereas the potential damage award is higher than what we can protect under the federal exemptions found in the Bankruptcy Code then we will most likely consider filing under the state exemptions….but ONLY IF it is an unsettled claim at the point of filing. If not…then we have to reassess as this court of appeals decision confirms the prior cases which have held that only the claim or the right to the action is exempt and not the proceeds themselves. The question I always ask is….where is this at? Has it been settled? Has pen been put to paper yet? If not, then all things being equal and we don’t have other types of concerns with other assets and the way we need to exempt those to weigh in…then we are good to go. If there has been a settlement…then the funds need to be spent down or converted to exempt assets within the limitations allowed by law.
Be advised that this analysis is pertinent to Minnesota bankruptcy cases and none other. If you are in another state other rules or case law may apply.
If you’ve got questions and need some answers regarding issues involved in a chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy filings for either personal or small business bankruptcy cases we’d be glad to help. Please feel free to connect with my office at your convenience.
David D. Kingsbury Attorney at Law
-Bankruptcy Lawyer Kingsbury Law Office
14827 Energy Way Apple Valley, MN 55124
Tel. (952) 432-4388 Fax. (952) 432-4969