This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Rosemary Tietz, trustee for the heirs of Stephen M. Tietz, et al.,
Glenn Alan Shefland, et al.,
Richard Benhardus, et al.,
Filed March 21, 2000
Cass County District Court
File No. C998584
Stuart L. Goldenberg, Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 701 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 700, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellants)
John F. Angell, Louise A. Behrendt, Stich, Angell, Kreidler, Brownson & Ballou, P.A., 120 The Crossings, 250 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2122 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Joycelyn and Richard Steenhoven, Melissa Eppelheimer, and Rosemary Tietz, trustee for the heirs of Stephen M. Tietz, appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment in this automobile accident negligence case. We affirm.
Stephen Tietz, Joycelyn Steenhoven, and Eppelheimer were passengers in a car driven by Glenn Shefland at about 1:15 in the morning of May 30, 1997, on Ah Gwah Ching Cutoff Road in Shingobee Township, a gravel road that ends in a "T" intersection at Highway 34, a two-lane asphalt highway. Shefland was approaching the intersection at 45 to 55 miles per hour, although the speed limit was 30 miles per hour. Unable to stop in time, Shefland's car slid through the stop sign, through the northeast-bound lane of Highway 34, and collided with the side of a southwest-bound truck owned by respondent Metz Baking Company and driven by its employee, respondent Richard Benhardus. All four occupants were thrown from Shefland's car; Tietz was killed. Appellants sued Shefland, Metz Baking, Benhardus, and the State of Minnesota.
In response to a summary judgment motion by Metz Baking and Benhardus, appellants offered the testimony of an experienced accident reconstructionist, David Hamerski, Ph.D. Based on the length of Shefland's skid marks and standard assumptions about nighttime reaction time, Hamerski estimated that the time between Shefland's reaction and the time of impact was 4.5 to 5 seconds. Hamerski thus concluded that Shefland could see the truck's headlights for 4.5 to 5 seconds before the accident, and that Benhardus could see a "flicker pattern" caused by Shefland's headlights shining through the trees lining Highway 34 for the same amount of time. Hamerski concluded that this period of time gave Benhardus the opportunity to take any of several measures that could have avoided or reduced the severity of the crash.
On appeal from summary judgment, we ask whether there are any genuine issues of material fact in dispute, and whether the trial court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). We review de novo the district court's interpretation of the law. Sorenson v. St. Paul Ramsey Med. Ctr., 457 N.W.2d 188, 190 (Minn. 1990). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted and accept as true that party’s factual allegations. Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993). If a party with the burden of proof fails to establish an essential element of its claim, that failure renders all other facts immaterial, making summary judgment mandatory. Lloyd v. In Home Health, Inc., 523 N.W.2d 2, 3 (Minn. App. 1994).
Generally, negligence is an issue of fact not appropriate for summary judgment. Otto v. City of St. Paul, 460 N.W.2d 359, 361 (Minn. App. 1990). But "where material facts are undisputed and as a matter of law compel only one conclusion, summary judgment may be appropriate." Id. (quotation omitted).
The only evidence appellants have adduced to support their claim of negligence is their expert's claim that Benhardus could or should have been able to see Shefland's headlights flickering through the trees for 4.5 to 5 seconds before the accident. Even viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to appellants, it does not create an issue of fact about Benhardus's negligence. Neither appellants nor their expert explain why Benhardus should have stopped or slowed down simply because he saw the flicker of headlights from a car approaching on an intersecting road.
As the motorist on a through highway intersected by a road controlled by a stop sign, Benhardus had the right-of-way. Minn. Stat. § 169.20, subd. 1 (1998). In fact, even if there had not been a stop sign on the Ah Gwah Ching Cutoff Road, Shefland would have had to stop before entering the highway, and Benhardus would have had the right-of-way. Id. at subd. 3 (1998). Benhardus
had the right to assume that drivers approaching the * * * highway would comply with traffic regulations and stop before entering the intersection and would yield the right-of-way to vehicles traveling thereon.
Oldendorf v. Eide, 260 Minn. 458, 461, 110 N.W.2d 310, 312 (1961).
Appellants offered evidence only that Benhardus should have seen Shefland's car approach the intersection before the accident. They have offered no evidence that Benhardus was somehow put on notice that Shefland would fail to stop. In the absence of such evidence, Benhardus was entitled to assume that Shefland would exercise ordinary care. Seivert v. Bass, 288 Minn. 457, 464-65, 181 N.W.2d 888, 892-93 (1970). Because appellants have failed to present facts tending to indicate that Benhardus breached any duty imposed on him by law, summary judgment was appropriate. Otto, 460 N.W.2d at 361.