This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
John Michael Bryant,
Filed October 16, 2001
McLeod County District Court
File No. 43-TX-00-001634
Mike Hatch, State Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Michael K. Junge, McLeod County Attorney, Mark A. Metz, Assistant McLeod County Attorney, 830 East 11th Street, Suite 112, Glencoe, MN 55336 (for respondent)
Douglas H.R. Olson, 510 First Avenue North, Suite 610, Minneapolis, MN 55403 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Hanson, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court’s verdict of guilty on charges of driving too fast for conditions under Minn. Stat. § 169.14, subd. 1. Appellant argues that the mere fact of an accident, without any other evidence of the motorist’s actual speed, is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the motorist was driving too fast for conditions. We reverse.
Early one March morning, appellant John Michael Bryant was driving his pick-up truck when he hit a patch of ice as he rounded a corner in the road. Bryant’s truck slid off the road and rolled into the ditch.
The state charged Bryant with driving too fast for conditions. The parties submitted the matter to the district court on stipulated facts, supplemented by the citation issued by the officer and a videotape of the accident scene. The district court found Bryant guilty of driving faster than was reasonable and prudent under the conditions without regard for the actual and potential hazards that existed, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.14, subd. 1 (1998).
Because the parties submitted the case on stipulated facts, the only issue is whether the district court correctly applied the law to the stipulated facts. The application of law to stipulated facts is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Morton Bldgs., Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue, 488 N.W.2d 254, 257 (Minn. 1992). See also Berge v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 374 N.W.2d 730, 732 (Minn. 1985) (independently reviewing the record to determine whether, as a matter of law, and based on given facts, the basis for the stop was adequate); State v. Marchbanks,632 N.W.2d 725, 731 (Minn. App. 2001) (reviewing district court's separate-behavioral-acts determination de novo where the facts were undisputed).
Bryant argues that the mere fact of an accident is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was driving too fast for existing conditions in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.14, subd. 1. While we have found no cases addressing this issue in the context of a criminal charge, several civil cases have held that the mere fact that an accident occurred is insufficient to prove, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, that the motorist’s speed prior to the accident was excessive. See Wimperis v. Satzinger, 273 Minn. 121, 124, 140 N.W.2d 323, 325 (1966) (stating that, while the nature of a particular accident may suggest that the motorist was driving negligently, the fact finder must consider all the surrounding circumstances); Hammond v. Minneapolis St. Ry. Co., 257 Minn. 330, 332, 101 N.W.2d 441, 443 (1960) (noting that proof of the vehicle’s skidding is not sufficient evidence); Yurkew v. Swen, 252 Minn. 277, 281-82, 89 N.W.2d 723, 726 (1958) (stating that evidence of skidding is insufficient to support a finding of negligence); see also Marshall v. Galvez, 480 N.W.2d 358, 360 (Minn. App. 1992) (listing reasons why a driver may lose control of a vehicle, including deer jumping out into the road, unexpected patches of ice, and wet slippery roads); cf. 4 Minnesota Practice, CIVJIG 25.55 (1999) (stating: “The fact that a[n accident] happened does not by itself mean that someone was negligent.”). These cases suggest that the mere fact of an accident is more clearly insufficient to prove excessive speed where the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Here, according to the stipulated facts, Bryant’s vehicle hit a patch of ice, crossed the highway’s centerline, slid off the road, and rolled into a ditch. We conclude that these facts are insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bryant was driving too fast for conditions.