This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Starboard Motors, Inc.,
d/b/a Cloquet Ford Chrysler Center,
Filed September 13, 2005
Carlton County District Court
File No. C1-03-617
Robert C. Falsani, Tanna B. Schwarz, Falsani, Balmer, Peterson, Quinn & Beyer, 1200 Alworth Building, 306 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent)
Eric D. Hylden, Nicole R. Weinand, Reyelts Leighton Bateman Hylden & Sturdevant, Ltd., 700 Providence Building, Duluth, MN 55802-1801 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Starboard Motors, Inc. (Starboard) challenges the district court’s order and award, and the district court’s denial of its motion for a new trial. The district court, after a one-day bench trial, found that Starboard was negligent in maintaining its parking lot but that respondent Florence Maki was 40% responsible for her own injuries. The district court awarded respondent $90,087.90 in damages. Starboard argues that the district court erred because (1) it had no duty to protect respondent from open and obvious dangers in its parking lot; and (2) the limited, circumstantial evidence presented at trial, as a matter of law, did not establish causation. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
“In a claim for negligence, a
plaintiff must prove: (1) the defendant
has a legal duty to the plaintiff to take some action; (2) there was a breach
of that duty; (3) the breach of the duty was the proximate cause of the harm to
the plaintiff; and (4) damage.” Gilbertson v. Leininger, 599 N.W.2d 127,
Starboard first challenges the
district court’s finding that it owed a duty to respondent on this record. Generally, the existence of a legal duty is
an issue for the court to determine as a matter of law. Louis
v. Louis, 636 N.W.2d 314, 318 (
Starboard argues that “[t]he test [for obviousness] is not whether the injured party actually saw the danger, but whether it was in fact visible.” See Munoz v. Applebaum’s Food Mkt., Inc., 293 Minn. 433, 434, 196 N.W.2d 921, 922 (1972). Thus, according to Starboard, because there was testimony that the cracks in the pavement were visible—based on the language of Munoz—the district court erred in finding the existence of a duty to protect respondent from the danger posed by those cracks.
But Munoz involved a plaintiff who walked into “a pool of water some 20
feet square and 1/4 of an inch deep,” then fell and injured herself.
Further, the Minnesota Supreme Court has stated, quoting Restatement, Torts (2d) § 343A, comment f, that:
[t]here are . . . cases in which the possessor of land can and should anticipate that the dangerous condition will cause physical harm to the invitee notwithstanding its known or obvious danger. In such cases the possessor is not relieved of the duty of reasonable care which he owes to the invitee for his protection. This duty may require him to warn the invitee, or to take other reasonable steps to protect him, against the known or obvious condition or activity, if the possessor has reason to expect that the invitee will nevertheless suffer physical harm . . . .
Such reason may also arise where the possessor has reason to expect that the invitee will proceed to encounter the known or obvious danger because to a reasonable man in his position the advantages of doing so would outweigh the apparent risk. In such cases the fact that the danger is known, or is obvious, is important in determining whether the invitee is to be charged with contributory negligence, or assumption of risk. . . . It is not, however, conclusive in determining the duty of the possessor, or whether he has acted reasonably under the circumstances.
In addition, the holding that landowners may have a duty if they should anticipate the harm despite the obvious nature of the danger was not overruled by the language of Munoz. See Louis, 636 N.W.2d at 319 (recognizing the continued existence of the exception to the open-and-obvious liability preclusion stated in Rawleigh). Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s determination that Starboard owed respondent a duty.
also challenges the district court’s finding of causation. The supreme court has stated that “causation,
like negligence itself, is a fact issue . . . except when the
facts are undisputed and are reasonably susceptible of but one inference.” Smith
v. Kahler Corp., 297
court may not reverse a trial court due to mere disagreement with its
findings. Rather, we will reverse a
lower court’s findings of fact only when those findings are clearly
erroneous. Findings of fact are
considered clearly erroneous only if they are not reasonably supported by the
evidence.” Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 102 (
Respondent was not
required to show by direct evidence the exact manner and cause of her
injury. See Sandvik v. Jammes,
The district court made the following relevant findings:
9. As [respondent] walked across the premises, she tripped and/or slipped on a rut/pothole/crack or ice, and fell to the ground.
10. The totality of the evidence shows that [Starboard’s] parking lot had previously been reconstructed due to an electrical situation; however, that the driveway/parking lot had never been fully resurfaced. It had been patched with hot and cold patches over the past seven years.
11. The parking lot had visible cracks and [Starboard] could reasonably anticipate they may cause injury in the event a person did fall during any weather condition, but specifically in winter.
12. Plaintiff fell attempting to cross the path to retrieve her vehicle, fell on uneven ground . . . [and was injured.]
We reject Starboard’s argument that these findings indicate that causation here is based purely on speculation. A number of pictures were submitted to the district court that depicted significant cracks in the parking lot in the immediate area where respondent fell. Witnesses from both sides also testified to their belief, prior to her fall, that respondent was capable of crossing the parking lot on her own. Also, the person in charge of safety at Starboard testified that the area where respondent fell was “somewhat less safe” than other areas of the parking lot. Finally, while respondent admitted she did not remember exactly how she fell, she did state her belief that the condition of the parking lot was the cause of her fall.
Taken as a whole, these facts support the
inference that respondent’s fall was caused (at least in part, as the district
court found) by Starboard’s negligent maintenance of the parking lot. See Sandvik, 281