STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Joseph C. Miller,
d/b/a Joe Miller Farms,
Filed October 5, 1999
Lyon County District Court
File No. C597978
John E. Mack, Mack & Daby P.A., 26 Main Street, P.O. Box 302, New London, MN 56273 (for appellant)
Thomas D. Jensen, William L. Davidson, David J. Retzlaff, Lind, Jensen & Sullivan, P.A., 150 South Fifth Street, Suite 1700, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Schumacher, Judge.
Appellant Leobardo Trevino challenges the denial of his motion for a new trial arguing: (1) the district court gave erroneous jury instructions; and (2) because the jury award was inadequate he is entitled to a new trial. We affirm.
Appellant contends the court erred by submitting appellant's claim to the jury with instructions based on an owners-and-occupiers-of-land theory rather than a master-servant theory. We disagree. The district court determined that the duty to provide safe work premises and to warn of dangers were included in JIG 330, the jury instruction that was used at trial. 4 Minnesota Practice JIG 330 (1986). The instruction stated that the possessor of land has a duty to inspect and repair his premises and to warn an entrant of unreasonable risks of harm caused by the condition of the premises. The instructions also specifically provided that the jury could consider the circumstances that led to the accident, including the reason appellant was on the premises and the foreseeability or possibility of harm. Further, the district court allowed appellant's counsel to argue to the jury in closing argument that respondent's duty was increased because of the employment relationship. Thus, the jury was allowed to consider that appellant was doing work for respondent.
We conclude this case is controlled by Stenvik v. Constant, 502 N.W.2d 416 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Aug. 24, 1993), where the issue was whether the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury on the common-law duty of an employer to an employee and instead instructing the jury on the duty of a landowner to an entrant. Id. at 421. The court in Stenvik concluded that the requested instruction was not significantly different from the instruction given, noting that both instructions essentially "require a person to exercise reasonable care toward another." Id. Because we agree that the duties owed by a landowner are not significantly different from the duties owed by a master under master-servant law, we conclude the court did not abuse its discretion by not giving a master-servant instruction.
Moreover, as in Stenvik, even if the instruction was improper, it did not prejudice appellant. In Stenvik, the court stated the landowner instruction did not result in substantial prejudice because the appellant did not show how
a slight difference in the wording of one instruction could have tipped the balance and changed the jury's apportionment of [appellant's] negligence from 80% to less than 50%.
Id.; see McDonough v. Brite Lite Elec. Co., 304 N.W.2d 28, 29 (Minn. 1981) (concluding that even if a better instruction on the standard of care could have been given, "the jury's finding of lack of causation between negligence and plaintiffs' damages makes any such error harmless"). Here, the jury determined that although respondent was negligent, his negligence was not a direct cause of the accident. We conclude that appellant's requested change in the wording of the special verdict form would not have changed the jury's determination of causation. Thus the jury's finding of lack of causation makes appellant's alleged error in instructions harmless.
perverse and palpably contrary to the evidence or where the evidence is so clear to leave no room for differences among reasonable people. The evidence must be viewed in a light most favorable to the jury verdict. If the jury's special verdict finding can be reconciled on any theory, the verdict will not be disturbed.
Hanks v. Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc., 493 N.W.2d 302, 309 (Minn. App. 1992) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993). "The test is whether the answers to the special verdict questions can be reconciled in any reasonable manner consistent with the evidence and its fair inferences." Buttz v. Bergeson, 392 N.W.2d 917, 920 (Minn. App. 1986).
Appellant argues that the jury's failure to award damages for pain and suffering and its "inadequate" award for loss of earnings requires a new trial. We disagree. In Raze v. Mueller, 587 N.W.2d 645 (Minn. 1999), a jury awarded the appellant damages for past and future medical expenses and lost wages, but not for future loss of earning capacity or for past or future pain and suffering. Id. at 646. The Raze court determined that the appellant's medical care could be compensated by the awarded damages, and therefore the jury`s award was not so inadequate as to require the conclusion that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the appellant's motion for a new trial. Id. at 649.
Here, respondent's medical expert testified that: (1) the heel bone was solid and just as strong as before the fracture; (2) although some range of motion was affected, the heel had healed completely and in a normal position; (3) although appellant may experience some pain from the injury, no further medical or orthopedic care would be required; and (4) appellant would be able to work in his occupation as a farm laborer. As in Raze, the jury could have determined from the testimony that the damage award for medical expenses was sufficient to fully compensate appellant. We conclude the jury findings are not irreconcilable and appellant is not entitled to a new trial.