This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Norton, Successor Trustee,
On behalf of the heirs and next of
kin of Rhya Lee Hawkinson,
Jill Marie Hawkinson,
Isanti County District Court
File No. C696478
Clyde E. Miller, Jennings, DeWan, Miller & Anderson, P.A., 307 South Main Street, Box 586, Cambridge, MN 55008 (for appellant)
William M. Hart, Kenneth W. Dodge, Jenneane L. Jansen, Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P., 4200 Multifoods Tower, 33 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant Susan Norton, the successor trustee for the estate of Rhya Hawkinson, challenges the district court’s determination that the adult standard of care applies to a child operating a motor vehicle in the context of comparing the child’s fault to the fault of the entrustor in a negligent entrustment action. Because Minnesota applies the adult standard of care to children who operate motor vehicles, we affirm.
Thirteen-year-old Rhya Hawkinson was killed on September 18, 1993 in a one-vehicle accident when she lost control of the vehicle she was driving. Respondent Jill Hawkinson, Rhya’s 18-year-old sister, gave Rhya permission to drive her vehicle to the family’s mailbox at the end of a quarter-mile-long driveway, but Rhya drove past the mailbox to a nearby farm. Rhya accelerated to 60 miles per hour on a gravel road. The vehicle fishtailed and went into a ditch. Rhya’s passenger turned the steering wheel sharply to the left, causing the vehicle to roll. Rhya was ejected from the vehicle and suffered fatal head injuries.
The trustee for the estate of Rhya Hawkinson brought this wrongful death suit against Jill Hawkinson, alleging negligent entrustment of her vehicle to a minor. On cross-motions, the district court determined that Rhya should be held to an adult standard of care for the purpose of comparing her fault to the fault of Jill Hawkinson. The parties stipulated to entry of a money judgment, dependent on this court’s determination of the standard of care applicable to Rhya’s conduct.
A reviewing court is not bound by and need not give deference to the district court’s decision on a purely legal issue. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass’n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984). The application of law to stipulated facts is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Morton Bldgs., Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 488 N.W.2d 254, 257 (Minn. 1992).
Appellant asserts that this is a case of first impression in Minnesota and that a failure to apply the child standard of care to Rhya would render the doctrine of negligent entrustment meaningless. We disagree.
When engaged in activities appropriate to her age, experience, and wisdom, a child is judged by the standard of care of a child of similar age, experience, and maturity. Dellwo v. Pearson, 259 Minn. 452, 458, 107 N.W.2d 859, 863 (Minn. 1961). In the operation of an automobile, airplane, or powerboat, however, a minor is held to the same standard of care as an adult. Id. The original rationale for this exception was that bystanders cannot know whether the operator of an automobile, airplane, or powerboat is a minor or an adult and cannot protect themselves against “youthful imprudence.” Id.
Although Dellwo states that the purpose of applying the adult standard is to protect third parties, the Minnesota Supreme Court has clarified that the adult standard applies not simply to child-defendants but unequivocally in all circumstances where a child operates a vehicle:
[T]he standard of care of a child [is] only proper when minors are “engaged in activities appropriate to their age, experience, and wisdom * * * ,” operating a motor vehicle not being one of such activities.
Miller v. State, 306 N.W.2d 554, 555 (Minn. 1981) (citation omitted). Miller held that the adult standard of care applies to determine a child-driver’s comparative fault in her suit against the state alleging negligent highway maintenance. Id. at 554-55.
A minor-entrustee has a cause of action for negligent entrustment despite the minor’s own fault. See Axelson v. Williamson, 324 N.W.2d 241, 244-45 (Minn. 1982) (remanding for comparison of minor-driver’s fault with fault of adult entrustor). The facts of Axelson are almost identical to the facts of the instant case. The standard of care of the child-driver in Axelson was not an issue. Applying the adult standard of care to the child-driver does not lessen the negligence of the entrustor.
Cases from other jurisdictions cited by the parties have all rejected the trustee’s proposal to use a different standard for comparing a child-driver’s fault with an entrustor’s fault. See Keller v. Kiedinger, 389 So.2d 129, 133 (Ala. 1980) (applying adult standard of care to child-driver to determine contributory negligence); Daniels v. Evans, 224 A.2d 63, 66 (N.H. 1966) (applying adult standard of care to child-driver to determine contributory negligence). The trustee presents no reason to upset nearly 40 years of precedent in Minnesota holding minors operating automobiles, airplanes, powerboats, or in some cases, guns, to an adult standard of care. See Huebner by Lane v. Koelfgren, 519 N.W.2d 488, 490 (Minn. App. 1994) (holding teenager to adult standard of care in handling a gun for purpose of comparing his fault with fault of victim and victim’s parents), review denied (Minn. Sept. 28, 1994). The district court correctly determined that the adult standard of care applies to Rhya’s conduct in this case.