This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




Clarence Davis, et al.,



Harvest Land Cooperative,


Filed May 13, 1997


Short, Judge

Cottonwood County District Court

File No. C195228

J. Brian O'Leary, O'Leary and Moritz, Chartered, 102 North Marshall, P.O. Box 76, Springfield, MN 56087 (for appellants)

Richard W. Sobalvarro, Rajkowski Hansmeier Ltd., 11 Seventh Avenue North, P.O. Box 1433, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1433 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.


SHORT, Judge

After improperly applying a herbicide product to their crops and suffering resultant crop damage and economic loss, father and son farmers Clarence and Shawn Davis brought suit against Harvest Land Cooperative (co-op), alleging the co-op was negligent in recommending a herbicide mixture it knew or should have known the Davises would apply using a non-conforming method. At the conclusion of trial, and pursuant to a special verdict form, the jury aggregated the Davises' negligence at 75% and found the co-op 25% negligent. The Davises moved the trial court for a new trial, or, in the alternative, for a new trial solely on the issue of negligence aggregation. In denying the motion, the trial court found Minnesota's comparative fault statute, Minn. Stat. § 604.01 (1996), permitted the aggregation of the Davises' negligence because they functioned together as a joint economic venture. On appeal, the Davises argue their farming operations do not constitute a joint venture, and, therefore, aggregation of their negligence under the comparative fault statute was improper. We affirm.


The granting of a new trial rests largely within the discretion of the trial court, and reversal of such a decision is warranted only for a clear abuse of discretion. Jack Frost, Inc. v. Engineered Bldg. Components Co., 304 N.W.2d 346, 352 (Minn. 1981). When reviewing a denial of a motion for a new trial, we determine whether the denial involved a violation of a clear legal right or a manifest abuse of judicial discretion. Hertz v. Hertz, 304 Minn. 144, 146, 229 N.W.2d 42, 44 (1975). We do not defer to a trial court's decision on purely legal issues. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).

Aggregation of negligence under Minnesota's comparative fault statute, Minn. Stat. § 604.01, generally is not allowed. Cambern v. Sioux Tools, Inc., 323 N.W.2d 795, 798 (Minn. 1982). However, where a joint economic venture exists between multiple defendants or plaintiffs, aggregation is proper; such a finding demonstrates the parties' actions were not merely concurrently negligent. Krengel v. Midwest Automatic Photo, Inc., 295 Minn. 200, 208-09, 203 N.W.2d 841, 846-47 (Minn. 1973) (allowing aggregation of defendants' negligence under comparative fault statute where criteria for joint venture were met); see Cambern, 323 N.W.2d at 798 (noting court's refusal to aggregate negligence where defendants were merely "concurrently negligent") (citation omitted).

A joint venture exists where

two or more persons combine their money, property, time, or skill in a particular business enterprise and agree to share jointly, or in proportion to their respective contributions, in the resulting profits and usually in the losses. In a qualified sense, a joint adventure is a limited partnership, not limited in a statutory sense as to liability but as to scope and duration.

Rehnberg v. Minnesota Homes, Inc., 236 Minn. 230, 234, 52 N.W.2d 454, 456 (1952), quoted in Krengel, 295 Minn. at 209, 203.W.2d at 847. It includes two necessary elements: (1) a mutual undertaking for a common purpose; and (2) a right to some voice in the direction and control of the means used to carry out the common purpose. Leuer v. Johnson, 450 N.W.2d 363, 366 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. Mar. 16, 1990). A finding of a joint venture depends on the peculiar facts of each case. Krengel, 295 Minn. at 209, 203 N.W.2d at 847 (quoting Rehnberg, 236 Minn. at 234, 52 N.W.2d at 456).

The Davises argue the trial court's aggregation of their negligence under the comparative fault statute was improper because their farming operations do not exist as a joint economic venture. We disagree. The record demonstrates the Davises: (1) farmed together for many years approximately 750 acres, 120 acres of which the parties jointly rented; (2) farmed all of the acreage with shared machinery and labor; (3) had jointly purchased multi-peril crop insurance listing the father as the producer and the son as the individual who is "sharing in the crop"; (5) jointly attended all herbicide meetings with the co-op's representative; (6) participate together in general trucking and custom work and seed bean projects; (7) made all inquiries in concert regarding the herbicide product; (8) jointly decided to purchase the herbicide product after consulting with each other and giving their mutual consent; and (9) acted in unison when planting their crops and applying the herbicide product. Given these facts, the Davises' farming operation constituted a joint economic venture. Under these circumstances, we hold the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Davises' motion for a new trial.