Personal Injury Settlements: Marital Or Non-Marital Property Under Minnesota Law?

Minnesota divorce statutes distinguish between marital and non-marital property. Marital property involves property acquired during the marriage, while non-marital property involves an asset that was brought into the marriage or received as an inheritance or gift to one spouse but not the other during the marriage. I’m often asked how Minnesota law treats a personal injury settlement. The answer rests in the nature of the recovery.

In Minnesota, an injury survivor can recover damages for a host of “losses,” including past and future wage loss, past and future medical expenses and pain and suffering.

Because wages are considered marital property, the past wage loss portion of an injury settlement is deemed marital in nature. The same is true of proceeds received to pay for past medical expenses: a marital liability. As a result, this portion of the personal injury or worker’s compensation award is subject to division among the parties.

However, an award for future wage loss and payment received for future medical care is non-marital. Earnings realized following a dissolution of a marriage remains the exclusive property of the earning spouse. Similarly, a debt incurred by a spouse following divorce must be paid by the person who incurs the obligation. Therefore, these portions of an injury settlement are non-marital in nature and are not subject to division.

Similarly, payments made for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life are not subject to division. In a literal sense, your body is non-marital in nature. You brought, for example, your hand into your marriage. Your hand is not subject to division if the marriage dissolves. If you lose your hand in an accident, you have lost a non-marital asset. Compensation for the lost non-marital asset is non-marital as well.

Difficulty rests in the fact that most personal injury cases are settled before trial. The parties will sign a release form. However, that release form does not typically break down the award into neat categories, leaving room for argument on both sides. A jury verdict form, however, will break down the portion of the award given for wage loss, medical bills and pain and suffering.

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