This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Kandiyohi County District Court
File No. C000890
Robert D. Stoneburner, Stoneburner Law Office, 100 Washburne Avenue, Box 202, Paynesville, MN 56362 (for appellant)
Steven R. Schwegman, Mary B. Mahler, Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., Suite 600, 400 South First Street, Box 1008, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant Daryl Lee Danielson, a passenger injured in a one-car accident, alleges that the district court erred by denying his motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial after a jury determined that respondent-driver Cory Walquist was not negligent. Because there is evidence in the record reasonably tending to support the verdict, we affirm.
In February 1998, appellant Daryl Danielson and respondent Cory Walquist attended a dart tournament at Bentley’s Bar in Spicer, Minnesota. The tournament began at 10:00 a.m. and ended in the evening. Danielson consumed food and alcoholic beverages during the tournament. After the tournament ended, the parties remained at the bar for another hour or hour and a half. Danielson wanted to return home to Willmar, but Walquist wanted to visit friends in St. Cloud, and Danielson eventually agreed to go to St. Cloud. Danielson was too intoxicated to drive, so Walquist drove Danielson’s 1989 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, equipped with four-wheel drive. It was snowing lightly when they left Spicer. As the parties drove towards St. Cloud, the snow increased and the road became snow-covered. Road conditions did not prohibit Walquist from driving at the speed limit between Spicer and Paynesville, and he did not engage the four-wheel drive. At Paynesville, he slowed to the 30 miles-per-hour city speed limit. The accident occurred just outside of Paynseville. As Walquist was accelerating to the posted speed limit of 55 miles-per-hour, the back tires suddenly “broke loose” from the road surface and Walquist lost control of the truck. The truck went off the road and hit a guardrail sign and a tree. Danielson’s truck was totaled. Danielson sustained a cut on his wrist, which caused nerve damage to three fingertips on his dominant hand; a chipped bone in his shoulder; and cuts on his forehead. The wrist injury required surgery and left a permanent five-inch scar on his wrist that runs from the palm of his hand to the middle of his lower arm. Danielson missed five weeks of work and suffered an uncompensated wage loss of $500 as a result of the accident. He has resumed his employment and all of his pre-accident activities.
A jury returned a special verdict finding that neither Danielson nor Walquist was negligent with regard to the accident. The jury awarded only $500 in damages. Danielson moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), or alternatively, a new trial. The district court denied the motions, and this appeal followed.
JNOV is proper only when the jury’s verdict is manifestly against the entire evidence or the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pouliot v. Fitzsimmons, 582 N.W.2d 221, 224 (Minn. 1998). The standard of review of a JNOV motion is de novo. Id. Where JNOV has been denied by the trial court, on appellate review the denial “must be affirmed, if, in the record, there is any competent evidence reasonably tending to sustain the verdict.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Unless the evidence is practically conclusive against the verdict, this court will not set the verdict aside.” Id. (quotation omitted).
The evidence must be considered in the light most favorable to the prevailing party and an appellate court must not set the verdict aside if it can be sustained on any reasonable theory of the evidence.
Id. at 224.
The district court has discretion to grant a new trial, and we will not disturb the decision absent a clear abuse of that discretion. Halla Nursery, Inc. v. Baumann-Furrie & Co., 454 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn. 1990).
On appeal from a 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), review denied (Minn. Apr. 29, 1992).
Danielson argues that the evidence presented at trial was practically conclusive against the jury’s finding that Walquist was not negligent, and therefore, the district court erred by denying his motion for JNOV. Danielson asserts that the fact that Walquist lost control conclusively established that Walquist did not maintain a speed that was “reasonable and prudent under the conditions” as required by Minn. Stat. § 169.14, subd. 1, and did not remain “aware of the actual and potential hazards then existing on the highway” as required by that statute. Walquist argues that there is evidence sufficient to support a finding that the accident was unavoidable and that no amount of caution on his part would have prevented the truck from going off the road when it presumably hit a patch of ice.
The fact that an accident has happened does not by itself mean that someone was negligent, and the jury was so instructed in this case. 4 Michael K. Steenson & Peter B. Knapp, Minnesota Practice § 25.55 (1999); Hagsten v. Simberg, 232 Minn. 160, 164, 44 N.W.2d 611, 613 (1950) (reversing denial of defendant’s motion for JNOV after verdict in favor of plaintiff child who was run over by an automobile). The reasonableness of a driver’s conduct in bad weather conditions is a question for the jury. Brager v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Fargo, Inc., 375 N.W.2d 884 (Minn. App. 1985). Even when the roadway was icy or wet and slippery, the question of negligence has been held to be for the jury. Langseth v. Bagan, 298 Minn. 519, 213 N.W.2d 334 (1973); Gran v. Dasovic, 275 Minn. 415, 147 N.W.2d 576 (1966) (affirming denial of plaintiff’s motion for JNOV where icy conditions caused defendant driver to lose control of automobile).
Danielson testified that Walquist was (1) driving at the speed limit; (2) the road was not slippery; and (3) the loss of control was unexpected. Danielson was unable to say exactly what caused the wheels to break loose. Danielson acknowledged that there were other cars on the road and no other cars in the ditch. The reasonableness of Walquist’s conduct was clearly a jury question. The evidence supports the jury’s finding of no negligence.
Appellant also asserts that the damage award of only $500 is “truly an unjust and perverse finding by a jury evidently acting upon passion or severe prejudice against [Danielson].” Danielson argues that the jury’s findings on the issues of negligence, permanency, and damages cannot “reasonably be reconciled with anything approaching a fair or just award or verdict” and contends that he is entitled to JNOV or a new trial. We agree that the award of damages is very low considering the evidence. Although Danielson has resumed his pre-accident activities and employment, he has a permanent scar and loss of sensation in three fingertips. Nonetheless, where credible evidence supports a no-liability verdict, the jury’s award of minimal of damages does not require a new trial. Otterness v. Horsley, 263 N.W.2d 403, 405 (Minn. 1978).
The district court did not err by denying Danielson’s motion for JNOV, and properly exercised its discretion by denying the motion for a new trial.