This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
McLeod County, et al.,
McLeod County District Court
File No. C7-02-001000
Keith D. Johnson, Keith D. Johnson, P.L.L.C., Barristers Trust Building, 247 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellant)
Mark S. Brown, Iverson Reuvers, LLC, 9321 Ensign Avenue South, Bloomington, MN 55438 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Wright, Judge; and Crippen Judge.*
Appellant challenges the district court’s denial of his motion for a new trial after a jury found that respondent was negligent in the operation of his vehicle, but that his negligence was not a direct cause of the accident between appellant and respondent. Because we conclude that the jury’s findings were not contrary to the evidence and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s motion for a new trial, we affirm.
Appellant Gene Zemlicka brought an action to recover from respondents deputy sheriff Matthew Schuster and McLeod County for injuries sustained by the appellant when a collision occurred between appellant’s snowmobile and Schuster’s squad car on March 9, 2001, at approximately 1:50 a.m. The parties agreed to use a special verdict form, which was submitted to the jury. Using this form, the jury found Schuster negligent in the operation of his vehicle, but in a separate answer found that Schuster’s negligence was not a direct cause of the collision. The jury both found that the appellant was negligent in the operation of his snowmobile and that his negligence was a direct cause of the collision. Appellant brought a motion for a new trial. In the memorandum attached to the district court’s order denying the motion for a new trial, the district court stated:
This Court will not presume to know the jury’s reasoning behind [its answer that Schuster was negligent] on the verdict form. Neither will this Court make the conclusion, as [appellant] is arguing, that the jury found Deputy Schuster negligent because he was driving without his headlights on. He was found negligent in the operation of his vehicle. [Appellant’s] arguments revolve around questions of fact arising from the incident. The jury decided these questions of fact and this Court finds the verdict consistent with the evidence presented to the jury.
Appellant requests review.
The decision to grant or deny a new trial lies “within the sound discretion of the trial court, and will not be disturbed 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, this court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and will affirm unless the verdict is manifestly and palpably contrary to the evidence. ZumBerge v. N. States Power Co., 481 N.W.2d 103, 110 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Apr. 29, 1992).
In the case before us, the jury could have determined that appellant’s later negligent conduct would have caused the accident even absent the negligent conduct of Schuster. For example, the jury could have decided that Schuster turned his headlights on as he crested the hill. This would be consistent with the testimony of one of the snowmobilers that Schuster’s headlights were on when he passed his snowmobile and with Schuster’s testimony that when he crested the hill he was even with the last snowmobile. In this scenario, Schuster’s negligence would not be the direct cause of the accident because Schuster’s lights, whether on or off, would not have been visible before cresting the hill and appellant’s negligence of not stopping at the road or crossing at a 90-degree angle would still be the direct cause of the accident. Or, the jury could have believed that Schuster was negligent in not slowing down when he saw that appellant was angling toward the road or when he lost sight of the snowmobiles. The jury could also have found Schuster was negligent in not alerting the snowmobiles to his presence by turning on his overhead lights and siren. We do not need to determine which analysis is correct. The point is that there are explanations for the jury’s conclusion that although Schuster was negligent, his negligence was not the direct cause of the accident. Therefore, we conclude that the jury’s finding that Schuster’s negligence was not a direct cause of the injury was not palpably contrary to the evidence.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.