may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
INCOURT OF APPEALS
Ruth Ann Marie Wittner,
The State of Minnesota,
self-insured (administered through
GAB Robins North America, Inc.),
Filed June 24, 1997
Hennepin District Court
File No. PI 96-358
Gary L. Manka, Cameron M. Parkhurst, Katz & Manka, Ltd., 4150 First Bank Place, 601 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Carol A. Kubic, Pustorino, Pederson, Tilton & Parrington, P.A., 4005 West 65th Street, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55435 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Davies, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Ruth Ann Marie Wittner (Wittner) was involved in a car accident while working as a trooper for the Minnesota State Patrol. Wittner, who was attempting to catch up to an unidentified speeder, was involved in a car accident with an unrelated third party. Wittner received injuries in the accident and made a claim for uninsured motorist coverage against respondent, the State of Minnesota (State), which is self-insured. Wittner received workers' compensation, but her uninsured motorist claim was denied.
Wittner sued the State for uninsured motorist benefits, claiming that the unidentified speeding driver owed a duty to her, and that his negligence was the proximate cause of her accident. The State moved for summary judgment, arguing that as a matter of law, the unidentified driver did not owe a duty to Wittner. The trial court granted the State's summary judgment motion and dismissed Wittner's complaint with prejudice, concluding that there were no material facts in dispute with respect to Wittner's claim of uninsured motorist coverage against the speeding vehicle. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal from summary judgment, this court's function is to determine: (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact, and (2) whether the district court erred in applying the law. State ex. rel. Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). The reviewing court "must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted." Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).
The trial court concluded that, as a matter of law, the speeding driver was not the cause of Wittner's accident. Wittner asserts the unidentified driver owed her a duty, which the driver breached by traveling 77 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. Wittner argues that the unidentified speeder's breach of ordinary care was the proximate cause of her accident and resulting injuries.
Unlike no-fault benefits, uninsured benefits may only be collected where the injured person has the right to assert a remedy against a driver at fault. Minn. Stat. § 65B.43, subd. 18 (1996); cf. Junker v. Allstate Ins., 489 N.W.2d 821, 822 (Minn. App. 1992) (underinsured motorist claimant must be "legally entitled to recover" damages from underinsured driver in order to claim benefits).
A prima facie case for negligence requires: (1) a duty; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) that the breach of the duty was the proximate cause of the injury; and (4) an actual injury. Hudson v. Snyder Body, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 149, 157 (Minn. 1982).
Wittner cites Schubitzke v. Minneapolis, St. P. & S.S.M.R. Co., 244 Minn. 156, 69 N.W.2d 104 (1955), arguing that a motorist owes all persons legally on a public highway a duty of ordinary or reasonable care. In Brager v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 375 N.W.2d 884 (Minn. App. 1985), we stated a plaintiff may not show that a duty is due to society in general, but rather must show that a duty is due particularly to him/her. Furthermore, in Stadler v. Cross, 295 N.W.2d 552, 554 (Minn. 1980), the Minnesota Supreme Court stated:
A person's liability for the consequences of her or his actions cannot be unlimited. The limits imposed must be workable, reasonable, logical, and just as possible. If the limits cannot be consistently and meaningfully applied by courts and juries, then the imposition of liability would become arbitrary and capricious.
In the present case, we believe Wittner has failed to demonstrate that the unidentified driver owed her a specific duty of care. Wittner merely stated a duty owed to society in general, that being the duty to obey traffic laws. There is no evidence in the record that demonstrates that the unidentified driver was ever aware that Wittner was attempting to catch up with him. The record also notes that the unidentified driver was at all times at least three miles away from Wittner. It would be an illogical and unworkable stretch to find that the unidentified driver owed Wittner a specific duty of care. Furthermore, even if the unidentified driver owed a common law duty to Wittner, she must also establish that the driver's conduct was the proximate cause of her injury. Hudson, 326 N.W.2d at 157. Here, the facts demonstrate the classic acausal synchronistic occurrence. The unidentified driver was merely the "occasion" for Wittner to exercise her judgment and attempt to catch up with him, not the cause of her accident. See Kryzer v. Champlin Am. Legion No. 600, 494 N.W.2d 35, 37-38 (Minn. 1992) (affirming trial court's judgment on the pleadings and holding, as a matter of law, that but for chain of events alone, without some causal connection, is insufficient to establish proximate cause).
In the present case, Minn. Stat. § 65B.605, subd. 3 (1996), provides no benefit because Wittner was never in "pursuit" of the unidentified driver, nor was the driver attempting to "flee" a peace officer. See Minn. Stat. § 65B.605, subd. 3 (1996) (if a peace officer is acting in the lawful discharge of an official duty, a person fleeing the peace officer by means of a motor vehicle is liable for all bodily injury and property damage suffered by any other person, except another person fleeing from a police officer, arising out of the operation or use of pursuing vehicle, unless the peace officer is not exercising reasonable care).
As a general matter, issues of negligence and proximate cause are questions of fact and are not susceptible to summary judgment. Illinois Farmers Ins. v. Tapemark Co., 273 N.W.2d 630, 633-34 (Minn. 1978). However, summary judgment may be appropriate on the issue of proximate cause, if the "material facts are undisputed and as a matter of law compel only one conclusion." Id. at 634. In the instant case, we cannot say that there are any "material facts" in dispute. See Rathburn v. W.T. Grant Co., 300 Minn. 223, 229, 219 N.W.2d 641, 646 (1974) ("a material fact is one of such a nature as will affect the result or outcome of the case depending upon its resolution"). On examination of the record, we believe that the facts of this case were so compelling that it would be difficult for reasonable minds to come to different conclusions. Thus, the proximate cause issue in this case was clear and should have been decided by the court as a matter of law.
[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
[ ]1 The sex of the unidentified driver is unknown; the male pronoun is used to distinguish the driver from Wittner.