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Kuhl v. Heinen

December 17, 2003

JOHN C. KUHL, TRUSTEE FOR THE ESTATE AND NEXT OF KIN OF JULIAN J. KUHL, RESPONDENT (A03-411), APPELLANT (A03-431),
v.
RUTH ANN HEINEN, APPELLANT (A03-411), RESPONDENT (A03-431), ELENORE TORBORG, A/K/A ELLA TORBORG, RESPONDENT, RICHARD ROE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



Stearns County District Court File No. C6-01-1740

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Willis, Judge; and Shumaker, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

It was not reasonably foreseeable that the presence of children on or near a daycare provider's driveway would distract motorists on an adjacent highway and thereby lead to a collision.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Willis, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Appellants challenge the district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing their negligence claim against respondent. Appellants argue that the presence of children on or near respondent's driveway distracted one of the appellants, who was driving on the adjacent highway, that respondent was negligent by allowing children from her in-home daycare center to gather on or near her driveway, and that respondent's negligence was a proximate cause of injuries suffered by the brother of one of the appellants in a collision with the other appellant. Because we conclude that respondent owed no duty to motorists on the highway to prevent children from gathering on or near her driveway, we affirm.

FACTS

On September 22, 1999, a motorcycle operated by Julian J. Kuhl collided with a sports-utility vehicle operated by appellant Ruth Ann Heinen. Kuhl suffered massive head injuries. The collision occurred on County Road 71 in rural Stearns County, in front of respondent Elenore Torborg's home, from which she provides licensed daycare services.

At approximately 5:00 p.m. on the day of the accident, Heinen was driving her vehicle southbound on County Road 71 on her way to pick up her two children from daycare at Torborg's home. The weather was clear, and the road was dry. Heinen slowed and activated her turn signal in preparation for turning left into Torborg's driveway. She noticed her seven-year-old daughter, Michelle, standing by a tree on Torborg's property near the junction of the driveway and the highway, and saw a few other children on the driveway. She paused for a moment as the children moved off the driveway, and then began her left turn across the northbound lane of the highway and into the driveway. While her vehicle was crossing the northbound lane, Kuhl's motorcycle struck the passenger side of Heinen's vehicle. Heinen told investigating officers that she did not see the motorcycle.

Torborg typically did not allow children to be on the driveway or near the highway except as necessary to get from their parents' cars or the school bus to Torborg's house and back. On the day in question, the children had left a fenced play area, accompanied by Torborg, to await pick-up by their parents, who usually arrived at about the time of the accident. A handwritten "contract and policy statement" drafted by Torborg and signed by Heinen provided that, when the children were outside, Torborg would require them to stay inside the fenced area unless an adult was present. The contract and policy statement also provided that Torborg did not "want the children to go near the road or river" behind her home. Torborg testified at her deposition that she allowed school-aged children, including Michelle Heinen, to be near the highway while they waited for the school bus.

Appellant John Kuhl, as guardian for his brother Julian Kuhl, sued Heinen, alleging that her negligence caused his brother's injuries. Kuhl later added Torborg as a defendant, alleging that she negligently allowed children in her care to be on or near her driveway, which distracted Heinen and was a proximate cause of Julian Kuhn's injuries. Torborg moved for summary judgment, arguing that, because the collision was not a foreseeable result of her actions, she owed no duty to Kuhl and could not be held liable for his injuries. The district court granted the motion. Kuhl and Heinen each appealed, and this court consolidated the appeals.

ISSUE

Did the district court err by granting Torborg's summary-judgment motion on the ground that Torborg owed no duty to Julian Kuhl because the collision between Kuhl and Heinen was not a foreseeable result of ...


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