may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Trent Whiteford, a minor, by Rhonda Whiteford,
his mother and natural guardian;
and Rhonda Whiteford, individually,
Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., et al.,
Rapid Sport Center, Inc.,
Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., et al.,
Michael Whiteford, individually,
Filed September 16, 1997
Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Remanded
Dissenting, Randall, Judge
Anoka County District Court
File No. C39414870
Bruce A. Peterson, Popham, Haik, Schnobrich & Kaufman, Ltd., 3300 Piper Jaffray Tower, 222 Ninth Street South, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondents Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A. and Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd.)
William M. Hart, Christopher J. Schulte, Michael D. Hutchens, Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P., 4200 Multifoods Tower, 33 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Rapid Sport Center)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
Trent Whiteford, a minor, by Rhonda Whiteford, his mother and natural guardian; and Rhonda Whiteford, individually, (the Whitefords) appeal from the district court's grant of summary judgment to respondents Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., Yamaha Motor Company, Ltd., (Yamaha) and Rapid Sport Center, Inc. (Rapid Sport). We affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to Rapid Sport. We reverse in part and remand the Whitefords' claims of negligence and strict liability against Yamaha.
The snowmobile was a Yamaha Snoscoot. Yamaha Motor Company, Ltd., a Japanese corporation, manufactures the Snoscoot, and Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., is the distributor. In October 1988, Gerald Paschke, the Whiteford boys' grandfather, purchased the Snoscoot from Rapid Sport for Travis Whiteford, then five-years-old. A salesperson at Rapid Sport recommended the Snoscoot as an appropriate snowmobile for a child.
A. Negligence and Strict Liability Claims Against Yamaha
The Whitefords' claims against Yamaha are for negligent design and manufacture of the Snoscoot, for negligent failure to warn of a dangerous condition, and in strict liability for defective design and failure to warn. The Whitefords argue there are genuine issues of material fact.
In a products liability action, a plaintiff must prove the manufacturer owed a duty of care under the circumstances. See Bilotta v. Kelley Co., 346 N.W.2d 616, 621-22 (Minn. 1984) (noting that negligence and strict liability merge into single products liability theory in design-defect and failure-to-warn cases, both requiring proof of a manufacturer's duty of care). The law imposes a duty of care on a defendant if the plaintiff's injury was reasonably foreseeable. Oswald by Thies v. Law, 445 N.W.2d 840, 842 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Nov. 15, 1989). When the issue of foreseeability is clear, the district court should determine whether a duty exists as a matter of law. Larson v. Larson, 373 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn. 1985). In close cases, however, the question of foreseeability is for the jury. Id.
The Whitefords argue a genuine issue of material fact exists on foreseeability because of the Snoscoot bracket. Dr. Kvalseth of the University of Minnesota's Mechanical Engineering Department, in an affidavit, stated that the bracket was "sharp" and "unguarded," violating a fundamental concept of safe design; and because the bracket was located near the front of the Snoscoot, there was a probability that this part of the Snoscoot would come into contact with a person, and that Yamaha should have foreseen the probability of a resulting injury. Dr. Kvalseth determined Yamaha could have eliminated the likelihood of injury, or enhanced injury, without compromising the Snoscoot's design by bending the edge of the bracket to face the back of the snowmobile.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Whitefords, Dr. Kvalseth's opinion creates a genuine issue of material fact concerning the foreseeability of this accident and the possibility of an injury or enhanced injury. The law does not require a defendant to have foreseen the particular manner in which an accident occurred. Oswald, 445 N.W.2d at 842. Instead, the law imposes a duty if the accident involving the risk was foreseeable. Id. We conclude that whether such circumstances are foreseeable is a question for the jury. We reverse and remand the issue of negligence and strict liability.
B. Breach of Warranty Claim Against Yamaha
The Whitefords claim the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the implied warranty of merchantability claim.
A buyer may sue a manufacturer for breach of warranty. Peterson v. Bendix Home Systems, Inc., 318 N.W.2d 50, 52 (Minn. 1982). An implied warranty of merchantability requires that products be "fit for the ordinary purposes for which [they] are used." Minn. Stat. § 336.2-314(2)(c) (1996). A party is liable for breach of the warranty if a product is "defective to a normal buyer making ordinary use of the product." Peterson, 318 N.W.2d at 53.
The Whitefords introduced no evidence that Trent Whiteford's injuries resulted from ordinary use of the Snoscoot. Instead, his injuries occurred as a result of a sledding accident in which he collided with the snowmobile. We find the district court properly granted Yamaha's summary judgment motion with respect to this claim.
2. The Whitefords argue the district court erred in dismissing their claims of negligence and breach of warranty against Rapid Sport.
A. Negligence Claims Against Rapid Sport
The Whitefords allege Rapid Sport negligently sold a defective product and negligently failed to warn the Whitefords of the dangerous condition of the Snoscoot.
A seller is liable for negligently selling a product only if it knows or has reason to know that a product is dangerous. Gorath v. Rockwell Int'l, Inc., 441 N.W.2d 128, 132 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. July 27, 1989).
A seller of a chattel manufactured by a third person, who neither knows nor has reason to know that it is, or is likely to be, dangerous, is not liable in an action for negligence for harm caused by the dangerous character or condition of the chattel because of his failure to discover the danger by an inspection or test of the chattel before selling it.
Id. at 132 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 402 (1965)).
We find no evidence indicating any knowledge on the part of Rapid Sport of the claimed dangerous condition of the Snoscoot. Rapid Sport, a retailer, did not participate in the design or manufacture of the Snoscoot. The Whitefords allege a design-defect, not a condition caused by Rapid Sport. It follows that Rapid Sport had no duty to warn the Whitefords of the Snoscoot's allegedly dangerous condition.
B. Breach of Warranty Claims Against Rapid Sport
The Whitefords claim Rapid Sport breached an implied warranty of merchantability. The district court correctly dismissed this claim. As previously discussed, this claim fails because Trent Whiteford's injuries did not result from ordinary use of the Snoscoot.
The Whitefords allege Rapid Sport breached an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose and an express warranty. They claim both warranties arose when Rapid Sport recommended the Snoscoot as appropriate for a child.
A warranty of fitness for a particular purpose is implied when a seller knows of a buyer's purpose in purchasing a product, and the buyer relies on the seller's judgment to select an appropriate product. Minn. Stat. § 336.2-315 (1996).
Even if Rapid Sport expressly and impliedly warranted the Snoscoot as appropriate for use by a child, these warranties do not apply to the circumstances in this case. Trent Whiteford was not using the Snoscoot when he was injured. Moreover, his collision with the Snoscoot and resulting injuries are not related to the age of the Snoscoot's operator. The district court correctly dismissed the Whitefords' warranty claims against Rapid Sport.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
RANDALL, Judge (dissenting).
Because I would affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment on appellants' claims of negligence and strict liability, I respectfully dissent.
I conclude, like the district court, that appellants failed to create a genuine issue of material fact. This is not a close case on the issue of foreseeability. As a result, it was for the district court to determine, as a matter of law, whether the injuries suffered were foreseeable. Compare Larson v. Larson, 373 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn. 1985) (holding foreseeability issue clear and appropriate for determination as a matter of law), with Lundgren v. Fultz, 354 N.W.2d 25, 28 (Minn. 1984) (holding that close questions on foreseeability should be decided by the trier of fact). Because the question of whether the injuries were foreseeable was a matter of law, none of the evidence presented by appellants created a genuine issue of fact regarding foreseeability.
Schneider v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 401 F.2d 549 (8th Cir. 1968), is instructive on the effect of expert testimony in a negligence case where the injury suffered was, as a matter of law, not foreseeable. In Schneider, a man lost the use of an eye after cutting it on his automobile's window vent. Id. at 552. The man sued the manufacturer of the car on several grounds, including negligence. Id. An expert testified for the plaintiff that the "window had a sharp edge not in compliance with the industry's custom and practice" against leaving sharp edges of glass exposed to the vehicles' users. Id. at 553. After the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the district court granted the defendants a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Id. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that, as a matter of law, the accident was not foreseeable. Id. at 558-59.
Here, Trent Whiteford suffered serious injuries when he slid face-first into the bracket on the underside of the snowmobile. Dr. Kvalseth testified that the snowmobile's design violated a fundamental concept of safe design: that manufacturers of consumer goods avoid making products with sharp, protruding edges on which users might injure themselves. Dr. Kvalseth further testified that the location of the bracket near the front of the snowmobile made it foreseeable that the bracket might cause injury. As in Schneider, however, the expert testimony offered here did not create a genuine issue of foreseeability, and the court determined that, as a matter of law, the accident was not foreseeable.
This case is readily distinguishable from Oswald by Thies v. Law, 445 N.W.2d 840 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Nov. 15, 1989), which correctly held that the injuries suffered in that case were foreseeable. There, the hooks that caused the child's injuries were attached to bars extending six inches from a vehicle parked on a public road. Id. at 841. As a result, anyone passing by the truck, from the front, back, or side, could have been caught on the hooks and injured. Here, in contrast, not only did the bracket not extend beyond the snowmobile, it was guarded on all sides--by skis on two sides, the body of the snowmobile behind it, and cylindrical metal bumpers in front. The bracket's edge was inherently less dangerous to the public than the pointed hooks involved in Oswald. While the snowmobile was stationary, only someone laying down and sliding toward the front of the snowmobile and precisely between the skis could be cut by the bracket.
Because the district court correctly determined that the injuries were, as a matter of law, not reasonably foreseeable, respondents were entitled to summary judgment. Without foreseeability, the negligence claim fails. Once the court determined that the accident was not reasonably foreseeable, none of the alleged genuine issues of fact--concerning subsequent remedial measures, marketing of the snowmobile to children, and the movement of the snowmobile at impact--were material so as to defeat the motion for summary judgment.
Accordingly, I would affirm the district court.