Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Tracy L. Andrews,
State Farm Mutual Automobile
Filed May 5, 1998
File No. C296300906
Leif A. Nelson, Brian C. Bengtson, Lano, Nelson, O'Toole & Bengtson, Ltd., 515 N.E. Second Avenue, Grand Rapids, MN 55744 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Mansur, Judge*.
*Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. Art. VI, § 10.
In this suit of respondent Tracy Andrews for uninsured motorist benefits, appellant State Farm challenges a jury verdict that respondent was only ten per cent at fault in the accident that produced her serious injuries. We affirm, finding no merit in appellant's assertion that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on a statute governing the subject of passing at an intersection.
In 1991, Gregory Goutermont, an uninsured driver, was travelling south on a two lane road. Respondent was driving her vehicle directly behind him. The vehicles collided at the intersection of two roads as the respondent was attempting to pass Goutermont, who attempted to turn left in the intersection.
Goutermont's blood alcohol level three hours after the crash was .11, indicating that he had a higher level at the time of the collision. Respondent testified that she attempted to pass him because he was driving very slowly. She also stated that he did not have his left turn signal activated when she began to pass him.
The area in which respondent passed Goutermont was marked with a sign indicating that she was approaching an intersection, but respondent did not remember seeing the sign. Southbound traffic at this point did not face a no-passing sign or a yellow line marking a no-passing area; there was a solid yellow line on the northbound side of the road.
At trial, appellant asserted that respondent was negligent in approaching a slow-moving vehicle and passing it at an intersection. Appellant asked the judge to include a reading of Minn. Stat. § 169.18 subd. 5(b)(2) (1990) in the jury instructions. At the time of the collision, this statute prohibited passing when approaching within 100 feet of or traversing any intersection "within a city or without if so posted." Id.
The trial court observed that the statute failed to state whether the precondition of posting in a rural area required a no-passing zone posting or merely an intersection posting. The court noted that even without the requested instruction regarding the statute, the parties were completely free to argue whether or not respondent was negligent in passing a slow moving vehicle at a point where the vehicle could make a left turn. These arguments were presented to the jury as the trial court had predicted.
The jury determined that Goutermont was 90% at fault for the accident. Respondent's damages were found to be twice appellant's $100,000 coverage amount. Appellant now seeks a new trial on liability and damages, contending that the trial court wrongfully denied its instruction request.
As the trial court concluded on this record, reading the statute was not necessary to the jury's understanding of the negligence issues. This is especially true since appellant had a full opportunity to present an effective argument on respondent's negligence in passing a slow vehicle at an intersection. There has been no showing of prejudice associated with the trial court's exercise of discretion. We observe that the jury found some fault of respondent notwithstanding substantial evidence of the uninsured motorist's fault. Moreover, as respondent observes, given the jury's large damage award, a different apportionment of negligence would have been insignificant so long as the jury did not find respondent more negligent than Gregory Goutermont.
Another consideration properly motivated the trial court in its exercise of discretion. As drafted in 1991, the statute was of dubious value. Any effort to use the statute to contend that a no-passing violation occurs in a rural area not marked for no passing, based on the presence of an intersection, would be subject to a contention that the statute was void for vagueness. Eliminating this doubt, the legislature amended the statute in 1993 to change the disputed phrase to "if the presence of the intersection is marked by warning signs." See Minn. Stat. § 169.18 subd. 5(b)(2) (1996). Moreover, the trial court could reasonably anticipate that the requested jury instruction would confuse the jury. Appellant did not ask the trial court to read and interpret the statute to the jury, but only that the trial court read it. So long as no prejudice was done to either party, a better verdict could be obtained without requiring the jury to speculate on the meaning of a statute after hearing counsel assert conflicting interpretations.
The trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give the requested instruction.