Officials Who Wrongly Told Medical Assistance Applicant His Property Would Not Be Subject to a Lien Are Not Liable

A Minnesota appeals court holds that county officials were not liable for negligent misrepresentation for incorrectly telling a medical assistance applicant that his property would not be subject to a lien because the information was readily attainable from other sources. Benigni v. St. Louis County (Minn. Ct. App., No. A15-1154, June 13, 2016).

Kenneth Benigni applied for medical assistance benefits from the state. According to Mr. Benigni, the application did not include information that the state had a right to place a lien on his property in order to recoup medical assistance benefits paid on his behalf. In 2005 and 2007, Mr. Benigni received renewal forms that included information about the lien. He asked two county officials about the lien and they told him he would not be subject to a lien. In 2007, after requesting further information, Mr. Benigni discovered that he would be subject to a lien and he cancelled his medical assistance.

Mr. Benigni sued the county for negligent misrepresentation, arguing that the county officials supplied false information to him about whether a lien could be placed on his property. The trial court granted summary judgment to the county, and Mr. Benigni appealed.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirms, holding that the county was entitled to summary judgment. The court notes that government officials are not liable for negligent misrepresentation if the information is readily attainable by the public unless the officials are learned in the field or have a fiduciary relationship with the person they are giving information to. The court rules that in this case, Mr. Benigni did not have a fiduciary relationship with the county officials and he could have found out the information by seeking legal advice from an attorney.

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