may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Fred Yeager, Jr., as trustee for the heirs and
next-of-kin of Lois Ann Yeager, deceased,
State of Minnesota,
Filed July 29, 1997
Pope County District Court
File No. C29651
Robert A. Awsumb, Rambow & Awsumb, P.A., 7901 Xerxes Avenue South, Suite 102, Bloomington, MN 55431 (for respondent)
Hubert H. Humphrey, III, Attorney General, Rochelle Rubin Weber, Portia Hampton-Flowers, Assistant Attorneys General, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1100, St. Paul, MN 55101-2128 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Short, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.[*]
In December of 1992, Peggy Yeager and her mother were traveling eastbound on a state highway when their automobile's right tires fell into a rut on the edge of the road. While attempting to maneuver the vehicle back onto the road, Yeager lost control of the car, which crossed into the opposite lane of travel, spun around backwards, and collided with a westbound vehicle. Yeager was seriously injured and her mother died as a result of the accident.
Several years later, Yeager's father brought a wrongful death action against the State of Minnesota, alleging it negligently failed to maintain the highway. The state moved for summary judgment, claiming immunity from civil tort liability under the snow and ice exception contained in Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 4. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment, concluding there were genuine issues of material fact regarding the cause of the accident. On appeal, the state argues the trial court erred in denying summary judgment because snow and ice conditions contributed to the accident. We affirm.
Minn. Stat. § 466.02 (1996) declares a municipality liable "for its torts and those of its officers, employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment or duties." However, the chapter provides an exception to tort liability for:
[a]ny claim based on snow or ice conditions on any highway or public sidewalk that does not abut a publicly owned building or publicly owned parking lot, except when the condition is affirmatively caused by the negligent acts of the municipality.
Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 4 (1996) (emphasis added).
The state argues the trial court erred in denying summary judgment under Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 4, because snow and ice conditions contributed to the accident. However, Yeager's testimony indicates: (1) the winter road conditions "weren't that bad," and the edge of the road "wasn't solid snow cover"; (2) Yeager lost control of the car only after she fell into a rut and attempted to maneuver the vehicle back onto the road; and (3) the car did not slide on any snow or ice, but spun backward due to the rut. Although the state's expert witness attested there was no visible rut between the road and the shoulder of the road at the accident site, witnesses for Yeager's father stated that a two-and-one-half to three-inch rut between the road and its shoulder was the proximate cause of the accident. Given this record, genuine issues of material fact exist regarding the cause of the accident.
Notwithstanding these factual disputes, the state argues it is immune because the weather was the "true culprit." See Koen v. Tschida, 493 N.W.2d 126, 128 (Minn. App. 1992) (holding the government is immune under snow and ice immunity statute when "weather is the true culprit") (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Jan. 28, 1993). We disagree. While snow and ice immunity is not restricted to cases in which a snow or ice condition itself is the sole basis for the claim, all of a plaintiff's allegations of negligence must attach to and intertwine with icy road conditions for immunity to apply. Here, Yeager's father seeks to hold the state responsible for damage caused by a rut that he alleges was unrelated to a snow or ice condition and was itself not a snow or ice condition. In addition, there is conflicting testimony in the record regarding whether snow and ice contributed to Yeager's fall into the rut. We decline to apply Koen beyond its intended reach. To interpret Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 4, as insulating a governmental entity from negligence every time ice or snow plays even a minor role in an accident, or when there is contradictory testimony on that question, would almost certainly guarantee absolute governmental immunity from November to April, and ultimately allow immunity to swallow the general rule of governmental liability. Because there are genuine issues of material fact with respect to whether the claims of Yeager's father are based on snow or ice conditions, the trial court properly denied the state summary judgment.
[ ] * Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.