Minn. Stat. §480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Western National Insurance Group,
Crow Wing County District Court
File No. 18-C9-96-000674
Michael W. Haag, Magie, Andresen, Haag, Paciotti, Butterworth & McCarthy, P.A., 1000 Alworth Building, P.O. Box 745, Duluth, MN 55801 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Norton, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
Appellant contends the trial court erred in denying judgment notwithstanding the verdict in this action for recovery of no-fault benefits. The record contains evidence to sustain the jury's verdict that appellant's injuries did not arise from the use or maintenance of a motor vehicle because the car with which appellant collided did not obstruct the roadway, was unattended, and was parked on the side of the road. We affirm.
The deputy who investigated the accident testified that the road in question was a two-lane gravel road that showed signs of heavy travel in the center of the road. According to the deputy's measurements, there were 49 inches between the wheel of the parked car and the center of the road. The ATV that appellant was driving was 36 inches wide.
As a result of the accident, appellant incurred $17,673.50 in medical expenses. He submitted these bills to respondent Western National Insurance Group, the insurer of the car owner, but the insurer denied the no-fault claim because it determined that appellant's injuries did not arise out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle.
Appellant then brought this action to recoup no-fault benefits under the theory that his injuries did arise out of the maintenance or use of the parked car because it had obstructed the roadway and caused the accident. After trial, the jury returned a special verdict finding that the automobile was not parked in a manner that obstructed the roadway. As a result, the no-fault act did not apply, and appellant was not entitled to benefits. Appellant moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, in the alternative, a new trial. The trial court denied these motions and dismissed the case.
When determining whether an accident arose "out of maintenance or use of a motor vehicle," the court must consider the extent of causation between the automobile and the injury. Continental W. Ins. Co. v. Klug, 415 N.W.2d 876, 878 (Minn. 1987). The "`causal connection' is less than proximate cause but more than the vehicle being the `mere situs' of the injury." Waseca Mut. Ins. Co. v. Noska, 331 N.W.2d 917, 920 (Minn. 1983) (quoting Tlougan, 310 N.W.2d at 117). For a causal connection to exist, the injury must be a natural and reasonable result of using the vehicle. Id. Further, the vehicle must have been an "active accessory" to the injury. Id. (quoting Holm v. Mutual Serv. Cas. Ins. Co., 261 N.W.2d 598, 603 (Minn. 1977)).
The trial court allowed this case to go to the jury based on Kolkin v. American Family Ins. Co., 347 N.W.2d 538, 540-41 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Oct. 19, 1984). There, a snowmobile driver sustained injuries when he struck a stationary, unoccupied motor vehicle that was protruding out of a driveway into the traveled portion of the roadway. The court held that the injuries arose out of the use of a motor vehicle under the no-fault statute and entitled him to uninsured motorist benefits and basic economic loss benefits. Id. at 541. The court determined a vehicle that protruded into the traveled portion of the roadway was more than the mere site of an accident, was not "passive" in terms of legal causation, and was an "active accessory" in the collision, given its location in the road, in the dark, without warning lights. Id.
Based on that holding, the parties here posed this question to the jury on the special verdict form: "Was the automobile with which [appellant] collided parked in such a manner as to obstruct the traveled portion of the roadway?" The jurors answered, "No." Appellant contends he was entitled to JNOV because the evidence did not support that verdict. We disagree.
When reviewing the denial of a motion for JNOV, this court must affirm if any competent evidence reasonably tends to support the verdict. Rettman v. City of Litchfield, 354 N.W.2d 426, 429 (Minn. 1984). When reviewing the evidence, we must admit "every inference reasonably to be drawn from the evidence as well as the credibility of the testimony for the adverse party." Seidl v. Trollhaugen, Inc., 305 Minn. 506, 507, 232 N.W.2d 236, 239 (1975).
The record here established that parking was allowed on this roadway even though it lacked shoulders and required vehicles to park partially on the roadway. The photos that appellant presented of the reconstructed scene showed that the car was parked as far to the edge of the road as possible, given that the road had no shoulder. Further, 49 inches of clear road remained between the passenger side of the car and the center of the road. Given that appellant's ATV was only 36 inches wide, he had a foot of clearance between the center of the road and the car. Although appellant expressed concern over crossing into the oncoming lane of traffic when trying to pass this car, the deputy's testimony and appellant's photos showed that the center of the road looked most traveled.
From this evidence, the jury could have reasoned that the car was not an obstruction because appellant had ample room to pass while still in his lane, and the photos showed that the regular pattern of traffic seemed to travel down the center of the road. Unlike the vehicle in Kolkin that was jutting out of a driveway into the roadway, this car was parked along the side, as far off the road as possible. This evidence supports the jury's finding that the car parked on the side of the road did not "obstruct the traveled portion of the roadway" so as to have caused this collision. The trial court properly denied the motion for JNOV.