Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Bruce Keys, et al.,
File No. 9512731
Mitchel I. Kirshbaum, Kirshbaum & Kirshbaum, Chtd., 6465 Wayzata Blvd., #770, Minneapolis, MN 55426 (for appellant)
Jerome R. Klein, 3800 West 80th Street, #1500, Bloomington, MN 55431 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Thoreen, Judge.[*]
Appellant contends that, because respondent was negligent as a matter of law for backing into appellant's parked car, the district court erred in denying his motion for JNOV after the jury determined respondent was not negligent. We affirm.
A court will overturn a jury's special verdict finding of no negligence on appeal only if "`there is no evidence reasonably tending to sustain the verdict or if it is manifestly and palpably against the weight of the evidence.'" Stumne v. Village Sports & Gas, 309 Minn. 551, 552, 243 N.W.2d 329, 330 (1976) (quoting Austin v. Rosecke, 240 Minn. 321, 324, 61 N.W.2d 240, 243 (1953)). Further, "`in examining a verdict on appeal the evidence must be considered in the light most favorable to the prevailing party and the verdict must be sustained if it is possible to do so on any reasonable theory of evidence.'" Stumne, 309 Minn. at 552, 243 N.W.2d at 330 (quoting Carpenter v. Mattison, 300 Minn. 273, 276, 219 N.W.2d 625, 628 (1974)).
The district court found that there was "competent evidence reasonably tending to sustain the verdict":
[T]he jury may have found that [respondent] made contact with [appellant's] vehicle, but not the person. The jury further could have found based on the facts of this case that bumping of a car did not constitute negligence or that because [appellant] alleged he was bent over behind the car and leaning into the back of the hatchback, * * * [respondent] may not have seen [appellant] behind the car and that [respondent's] contact with [appellant's] vehicle was so diminutive it would not constitute negligence.
We agree with the district court that it would be reasonable for the jury to conclude that neither party was negligent if the evidence indicates respondent: (1) saw only appellant's car, and not appellant behind it; (2) thought she would be unable to drive forward to get out of the parking space; (3) was attempting to back her vehicle out with only 12-18 inches of space between the two vehicles; and (4) checked her mirrors and windows and backed up slowly. The jury could reasonably have concluded that in these circumstances, using these precautions, and with the lack of affirmative evidence of negligence (beyond the accident itself), respondent acted with reasonable care. See Johnson, 448 N.W.2d at 542 (the jury found defendant not negligent when she accidentally backed into plaintiff in a parking lot); Edens v. Myers, 365 S.W.2d 559, 561-62 (Mo. 1963) (simply because defendant admitted she backed car into plaintiff's, plaintiff not automatically entitled to judgment as matter of law, but still has burden to prove essential elements of cause of action).
The district court was in the best position to review the evidence presented to the jury. Because there is "evidence reasonably tending to sustain the verdict" and the verdict is not "manifestly and palpably against the weight of the evidence," the district court's JNOV and a new trial is affirmed, and we need not address appellant's request for a new trial on damages.
[*] Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.