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Taney v. Independent School District

January 13, 2004

EUNICE TANEY, ET AL., RESPONDENTS,
v.
INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 624, APPELLANT.



Ramsey County District Court File No. C2-01-186

Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Anderson, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

In a negligence action, the substantial remodeling of real property in the direct vicinity of an accident constitutes an improvement to that property and therefore the statute of repose, Minn. Stat. § 541.051, runs from the date of that remodeling rather than the date of original construction of the real property.

In a negligence action, so long as the jury instructions are a fair and correct statement of the law, the district court does not err when it refuses to issue an instruction that the jury may not consider violations of the Uniform Building Code in determining negligence.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: G. Barry Anderson, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Respondent, Eunice Taney, brought a personal injury action against appellant, Independent School District No. 624 (ISD). After a two-day jury trial, ISD moved for a directed verdict on the issue of negligence. The district court denied the motion. The jury returned a special verdict finding both parties causally negligent; the jury apportioned fault for the accident at 32% for Taney and 68% for ISD.

After the district court ordered judgment, ISD brought post-trial motions seeking judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), or in the alternative, a new trial. ISD also asserted that Taney was barred from using a negligence theory because the statute of limitations*fn1 pertaining to improvements to real property, Minn. Stat. § 541.051 subd. 1 (2002), had expired.

The district court denied ISD's motions and this appeal follows.

FACTS

On December 15, 1998, Taney and her daughter-in-law attended Taney's granddaughter's choir program at Sunrise Park Middle School (Sunrise). ISD owns and operates Sunrise. Sunrise was built in 1958. In 1992, in order to comply with the building code so that ISD could use Sunrise as a middle school, ISD remodeled the building. On November 5, 1993, the city of White Bear Lake's Department of Building Inspection issued a certificate of occupancy that stated, "[A]t the time of issuance [Sunrise] was in compliance with the various ordinances of the city regulating building construction or use."

The evening of December 15, 1998, was Taney's first visit to Sunrise. On that night, ISD blocked off two of Sunrise's three hallways; the third hallway led directly to the gymnasium where the concert was held. But there were neither signs nor guides directing visitors to the choir program. Taney and her daughter-in-law searched Sunrise for several minutes without finding the concert.

Taney and her daughter-in-law then came to a set of glass double-doors that led into an interior courtyard. Through the glass doors, Taney could see lights and people in the hallway on the other side of the courtyard, so Taney assumed that the concert was on the other side of the courtyard.

Taney pushed open one of the doors to the courtyard and stepped outside. Taney testified that when she opened the door and stepped outside the lights and the people in the hallway across the courtyard distracted her. At the threshold of the door was a nine-inch drop-off; Taney stepped through the door, fell as a result of the drop-off, and broke her hip when she landed on the ground. Taney's hip injury required surgery.

The weather on the night of Taney's fall was temperate; there was no snow on the ground. The courtyard is two hundred feet long and eighty feet wide; it does not have a sidewalk or artificial lighting, but on the night of the ...


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