This opinion will be unpublished and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
Joy L. Arndt-Schumacher, et al.,
Ronald L. Craig,
Hubbard County District Court
File No. C499668
Robert F. Mannella, Babcock, Neilson, Mannella, LaFleur & Klint, 118 East Main Street, Anoka, MN 55303 (for appellants)
Charles R. Powell, Powell & Powell, 713 Beltrami Avenue, P.O. Box 908, Bemidji, MN 56619-0908 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellants Joy Arndt-Schumacher and Dirk Schumacher dispute the sufficiency of the evidence to support a jury’s finding that respondent Ronald Craig was not negligent in an automobile-snowmobile collision. Appellants also dispute the award of damages and the trial court’s exercise of discretion in giving jury instructions on the emergency doctrine and the topic of superseding causes. Because there is sufficient evidence in the record to permit the jury’s verdict and because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in instructing the jury, we affirm.
In February 1999, Arndt-Schumacher was riding her snowmobile next to the snow bank on the far right side of the road on Arago Township Road #10. Arndt-Schumacher began experiencing problems with her snowmobile, so she turned around and headed back home, but she stayed on the same side of the road. As Arndt-Schumacher came around a blind curve, she collided head-on with respondent, a rural mail deliverer who was driving a 1993 Chevy Lumina, also near the snow bank on the far right side of the road. Arndt-Schumacher was injured.
In their October 1999 suit, appellants claimed that respondent “negligently operated his motor vehicle so as to cause it to collide with” their snowmobile. The matter was tried to the jury, and the jury found that Arndt-Schumacher was negligent but that respondent was not. The jury rejected appellants’ claims for damages for past and future pain and suffering, wage loss, and loss of consortium, but awarded $35,766.41 and $8,000, respectively, for past and future medical expenses.
Appellants moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, additur, and a new trial, contending that (1) the evidence presented at trial did not support a finding of appellants’ negligence; (2) “the jury instructions regarding the emergency rule and superseding cause were improper because [they] were not issues in the case”; (3) the jury displayed “passion and prejudice” against appellants in their findings of damages; and (4) the findings on damages were inadequate. The trial court denied all post-trial motions.
1. Sufficiency of the evidence
On appeal from the denial of a motion for a new trial, “the verdict must stand unless it is manifestly and palpably contrary to the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict.” ZumBerge v. Northern States Power Co., 481 N.W.2d 103, 110 (Minn. App. 1992) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Apr. 29, 1992). It is within the trial court’s discretion to grant a new trial, and a reviewing court will not disturb the trial court’s decision in the absence of a clear abuse of that discretion. Halla Nursery, Inc. v. Baumann-Furrie & Co., 454 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. 1990).
Judgment notwithstanding the jury’s verdict is proper only when the verdict has no reasonable support in fact or is contrary to the law. Diesin v. Hessburg, 455 N.W.2d 446, 452 (Minn. 1990). This court reviews de novo the denial of a JNOV motion. Pouliot v. Fitzsimmons, 582 N.W.2d 221, 224 (Minn. 1998). The reviewing court must affirm denial of the motion if there is any competent evidence in the record “reasonably tending to sustain the verdict.” Id. (quotations and citations omitted). But this court will overturn a trial court’s order denying JNOV if the evidence “is practically conclusive against the verdict, or [if] reasonable minds could reach but one conclusion against the verdict.” Seidl v. Trollhaugen, Inc., 305 Minn. 506, 507, 232 N.W.2d 236, 239 (1975) (citation omitted).
Appellants contend that the jury could not have found Arndt-Schumacher negligent because of evidence in the case that she was traveling on the shoulder and not the main portion of the roadway. Appellants’ position fails for several reasons.
First, it is not conclusive that Arndt-Schumacher was driving on the shoulder of the road. Respondent testified that, at least immediately after the collision, the snowmobile was on the road, not the shoulder. Another witness testified that when he arrived at the scene shortly after the collision it was apparent the snowmobile had been moved to the side of the road: “You could see the marks where it had been pulled aside.” Finally, two witnesses, including one for appellants, testified that there was no clear delineation between the shoulder, the roadway, and the ditch of the town road because it was covered in snow.
Second, contrary to appellants’ assertions, the jury could have found Arndt-Schumacher negligent even if she were driving on the shoulder because she failed to stay to her right. See Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 2 (2000) (“Drivers of vehicles proceeding in opposite directions, shall pass each other to the right.”). A violation of any traffic regulation is “prima facie evidence of negligence.” Minn. Stat. § 169.96(b) (2000).
Appellants argue that Arndt-Schumacher was not required to ride on the right half of the road because the law does not apply to those traveling on the shoulder of the road. See Minn. Stat. § 169.01, subd. 31 (2000) (defining “roadway” as “that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the sidewalk or shoulder”); Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 1 (2000) (“[A] vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway * * * .). But other provisions of the Highway-Traffic statute, as well as the statute concerning snowmobiles, define roadway in a broader fashion and should be considered in construing the application of the rule to snowmobiles. See Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2000) (stating that every law should be construed to give effect “to all its provisions”). For example, section 84.81, subdivision 9, defines “roadway” as “that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel.” Minn. Stat. § 84.81, subd. 9 (2000). And section 169.01, subdivision 29, defines “streets” and “highways” as “the entire width between boundary lines of any way * * * open to the use of the public * * * for the purposes of vehicular traffic.” Minn. Stat. § 169.01, subd. 29 (2000).
Moreover, applying section 169.18, subdivision 1, in such a limited fashion would lead to an absurd result, in disregard of the legislative aim to prevent personal injury and to encourage the responsible movement of motor vehicles on the roadway. See In re Estate of Ablan, 591 N.W.2d 725, 727 (Minn. App. 1999) (stating the court will not construe a statute that leads to an absurd or unjust result if the language permits another reading). If we were to interpret the statute as appellants wish, all automobiles would be able to drive the wrong way on the shoulder without violating the law. The better practice is to harmonize and reconcile the conflicts in the statutory provisions “to give effect to the principal and more important clauses manifesting the policy or purpose thereof.” Lowry v. City of Mankato, 231 Minn. 108, 113, 42 N.W.2d 553, 557-58 (1950). Vehicles cannot drive the wrong way on the shoulder without violating the law.
In addition to statutory law, the jury could have relied on evidence concerning snowmobile-safety standards that would have required Arndt-Schumacher to travel on the right side of the roadway. The Minnesota manual on snowmobile safety provides that an individual may only ride “[o]n township roads on the extreme right-hand side (when not restricted by local ordinance).” Minn. Dep’t of Natural Res., Minnesota Snowmobile: 1996-1997 Safety Laws, Rules & Regulations 12.
Finally, appellants failed to present compelling evidence that respondent was negligent by driving on the shoulder of the road. The evidence was equivocal on the exact location of the collision, with two witnesses saying the snowmobile had been hit on the roadway. And, as a matter of law, appellants present no authority, and we find none, for their suggestion that it is negligence per se to drive an automobile on the shoulder of the road.
2. Jury instructions
A trial court has broad discretion in determining jury instructions. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Short, 459 N.W.2d 111, 113 (Minn. 1990). Where instructions fairly and correctly state the applicable law, an appellate court will not grant a new trial. Alevizos v. Metropolitan Airports Comm’n, 452 N.W.2d 492, 501 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. May 11, 1990). Whether an individual exercises reasonable care commensurate with a sudden peril is ordinarily a question of fact for the jury. Brady v. Kroll, 244 Minn. 525, 530, 70 N.W.2d 354, 358 (1955).
Contrary to appellants’ assertions, respondent presented evidence permitting the jury to conclude that even if it found that respondent’s conduct was negligent, his conduct was reasonable in light of the circumstances.
a. Emergency rule
The emergency rule is merely a particularized application of the standard of reasonable care. Id. An instruction on the emergency rule “should always be given where it is consistent with the theory of one of the parties to the action,” and the party’s evidence “would sustain a finding that he had been confronted with a sudden peril or emergency and acted under its stress.” Gran v. Dasovic, 275 Minn. 415, 419, 147 N.W.2d 576, 579 (1966) (citations omitted). But the party seeking to invoke the emergency rule must also “show that his own negligence did not create or contribute to the emergency situation.” Siegler v. Conner, 396 N.W.2d 612, 615 (Minn. App. 1986) (citation omitted).
Here, there was evidence that respondent was confronted with an emergency or peril when he came around the corner and encountered Arndt-Schumacher moving in his direction on the same side of the road. The evidence indicated that respondent had only a split second before impact to take any evasive actions. Also, the jury could have reasonably found that respondent did not cause the emergency where he hugged the corner to prevent colliding with an oncoming vehicle driving on the other side of the road.
b. Superseding cause
Appellants also contend that the trial court improperly submitted the issue of superseding cause to the jury. An intervening, superseding cause of harm will act “as a limitation on a defendant’s liability for his [or her] negligent conduct.” Lennon v. Pieper, 411 N.W.2d 225, 228 (Minn. App. 1987). The act “breaks the chain of causation set in operation by a defendant’s negligence, thereby insulating his negligence as a direct cause of the injury.” Id. (citation omitted).
For an intervening cause to be considered a superseding cause, the intervening cause must satisfy four elements: 1) its harmful effects must have occurred after the original negligence; 2) it must not have been brought about by the original negligence; 3) it must have actively worked to bring about a result which would not otherwise have followed from the original negligence; and 4) it must not have been reasonably foreseeable by the original wrongdoer.
Canada by Landy v. McCarthy, 567 N.W.2d 496, 507 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted). The record contains evidence that respondent could not have reasonably anticipated encountering a snowmobile on his side of the road when he came around the curve. The jury could have reasonably determined that Arndt-Schumacher’s negligence in driving on the same side of the road occurred after respondent’s purported negligence in driving around the blind curve as he did. Further, it would not have been unreasonable for the jury to conclude that if Arndt-Schumacher had been traveling to her right, the collision would not have occurred.
Because we sustain the trial court’s determination on liability, we decline to address appellants’ challenge of jury findings on damages.