This opinion will be unpublished and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
a Massachusetts corporation,
Filed June 7, 2000
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C49710776
Marcy S. Wallace, Cox, Goudy, McNulty & Wallace, 676A Butler Square, 100 North Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55403; and
Aaron T. Stone, Strandemo & Sheridan, P.A., 320 Eagandale Office Center, 1380 Corporate Center Curve, Eagan, MN 55121 (for appellant)
Robert W. Kettering, Jr., Paul A. Banker, Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, P.A., 500 Young Quinlan Building, 81 South Ninth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Charles Hatfield challenges the district court’s grant of judgment notwithstanding the verdict to respondent Qual-Craft Industries after a jury found that Qual-Craft had negligently failed to provide adequate warnings or instructions for the safe use of Qual-Craft’s pump jacks and that this failure was a direct cause of injuries suffered by Hatfield. We reverse.
In 1990, Hatfield purchased two Qual-Craft pump jacks, devices designed to work in tandem to hold and to raise and lower a scaffolding platform. The Qual-Craft pump jack is held in place on a scaffolding pole by two locking mechanisms. The bottom lock is spring-loaded and may be disengaged by foot pressure on a pedal. The top lock consists of a metal bar that runs between two metal “ears,” with a crank handle attached to the bar at the outside of one ear. The bar is in part square and in part cylindrical. To engage the top lock, an operator must slide the metal bar so that the square portion of the metal bar fits within a square hole in each metal ear. To disengage the top lock, the operator must slide the bar so that the cylindrical portion of the bar rotates freely in the ears’ square holes.
On March 6, 1991, Hatfield and his father were installing a window at a house in Maplewood. Hatfield raised the scaffolding platform by using the pump jacks, stepped off of the platform to retrieve the window through the window opening, and stepped back onto the platform while holding the window. The scaffolding collapsed, and Hatfield was injured.
Hatfield sued Qual-Craft in March 1995, alleging that its pump jacks were defectively designed and that Qual-Craft failed to provide adequate warnings or instructions regarding use of the product. Hatfield’s expert, Richard Kielty, testified that Hatfield’s accident occurred because the top and bottom locks of one of the pump jacks were not both engaged. Kielty testified that he believed that the metal ears of the top lock were defectively designed and noted that the ears of the top lock of Hatfield’s pump jack that allegedly caused the accident had spread outward, making it impossible to engage the top lock properly. But Kielty stated that he did not conclude whether the spread of the ears was present before the accident or was “actually caused by the accident.” Rather, Kielty testified that he only concluded that the top lock “was not engaged,” and, therefore, the bottom lock of the pump jack was the sole mechanism holding the scaffolding platform in place. Kielty further testified that when the top lock is not engaged, the bottom lock may partially disengage when an operator steps off the scaffolding platform and then slowly places his weight back on the platform, as here, where Hatfield raised the platform, stepped off, and then returned to the scaffolding. Kielty testified that because of his conclusion that the top lock was not engaged and the bottom lock became disengaged, the pump jack slid a short distance down the pole, resulting in the collapse of the scaffolding and Hatfield’s injuries.
The jury rejected Hatfield’s claim that the pump jack was defectively designed. But the jury did find that Qual-Craft negligently failed to provide adequate warnings or instructions for the safe operation of the pump jack and that this failure was a direct cause of Hatfield’s accident.
The district court granted Qual-Craft’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on Hatfield’s failure-to-warn claim after concluding that Qual-Craft did not have a duty to warn and thus could not have negligently failed to provide adequate warnings. Hatfield appeals the grant of JNOV.
D E C I S I O N
A district court may grant JNOV when the verdict is against the overwhelming evidence so “that reasonable minds cannot differ as to the proper outcome.” Lamb v. Jordan, 333 N.W.2d 852, 855 (Minn. 1983). All evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, and a court may not weigh the evidence or judge the credibility of the witnesses. Id. The granting of JNOV is purely a question of law, and this court will review the district court’s decision de novo. Krutsch v. Walter H. Collin GmBh, 495 N.W.2d 208, 211 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Mar. 22, 1993).
Hatfield argues that the district court erred by concluding that Qual-Craft did not have a duty to warn of the allegedly dangerous propensity of the bottom lock. Whether a manufacturer has breached its duty to warn of a danger is generally a question for the jury. Balder v. Haley, 399 N.W.2d 77, 81 (Minn. 1987). But whether a manufacturer has a duty to warn of a danger is a question of law, and this court need not defer to the conclusion of the district court. Westbrock v. Marshalltown Mfg. Co., 473 N.W.2d 352, 358 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Sept. 13, 1991); see Frost-Benco Elec. Ass’n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
To determine whether a manufacturer has a duty to warn of an alleged danger this court reviews
the event causing the damage and looks back to the alleged negligent act. If the connection is too remote to impose liability as a matter of public policy, the courts then hold there is no duty, and consequently no liability. On the other hand, if the consequence is direct and is the type of occurrence that was or should have been reasonably foreseeable, the courts then hold as a matter of law that a duty exists.
Germann v. F.L. Smithe Mach. Co., 395 N.W.2d 922, 924 (Minn. 1986). See generally Restatement (Third) of Torts § 2 (1998) (providing that product is defective because of inadequate warnings when foreseeable risks of harm could have been reduced by warnings and omission of warnings renders product not reasonably safe). Thus, whether a manufacturer has a duty to warn is dependent on the foreseeability of the alleged danger and the resulting injury. Westbrock, 473 N.W.2d at 358.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we must assume that the jury agreed with Hatfield’s expert, Kielty, that the bottom lock has a dangerous propensity to disengage with the removal and reapplication of a load. But Hatfield states in his brief, and Kielty testified, that for the bottom lock to disengage and cause the scaffolding to collapse, the top lock must not be engaged. Thus, for the bottom lock’s propensity to disengage to create a duty to warn of that danger, it must be foreseeable that either (1) an operator will be unable to engage the top lock because of an inoperable condition or (2) the top lock will simply be disengaged.
The district court concluded that because the jury found that the inoperable condition of the top lock arising from the spreading of the top lock’s ears did not result from a design defect and “[t]here was no evidence that the alleged defect, the spreading of the upper lock ears, was a condition which Qual-Craft should have foreseen,” Qual-Craft did not have a duty to warn “of any hazards which might result from the spreading of the ears.” We agree with the district court, given the record and the jury’s verdict, that any danger arising from the spreading of the ears of the top lock of Hatfield’s pump jack was not the type of occurrence that was or should have been reasonably foreseeable so as to impose on Qual-Craft a duty to warn of a danger resulting from that cause.
But it is foreseeable that an operator would disengage the top lock in the course of using a pump jack. The directions affixed to Hatfield’s pump jack direct an operator to disengage the top lock before lowering the scaffolding platform to work at a different height. Thus it is foreseeable that an operator would be exposed to the danger created by the propensity of the bottom lock to disengage with the removal and reapplication of a load when the top lock is not engaged. And, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, Hatfield’s accident occurred when the bottom lock disengaged after he stepped off and returned to the scaffolding platform while the top lock of his pump jack was not engaged.
Because it is foreseeable that an operator would be exposed to the danger that led to Hatfield’s accident, we conclude that his accident and resulting injury is the type of occurrence that should have been reasonably foreseeable and that the connection between the accident and Qual-Craft’s failure to warn is not too remote to establish a duty to warn as a matter of law. See Germann, 395 N.W.2d at 924 (establishing duty to warn where accident is reasonably foreseeable type of occurrence and connection between accident and failure to warn is not too remote). Thus, we hold as a matter of law that Qual-Craft had a duty to warn of the propensity of the bottom lock to disengage with the removal and reapplication of a load when the top lock is not engaged. We therefore reverse the JNOV granted by the district court and reinstate the jury verdict.
 We note that the instructions affixed to Hatfield’s pump jack do not direct an operator to reengage the top lock after lowering the jack.