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Kelly v. Ellefson

April 27, 2006

KEVIN KELLY, AS TRUSTEE FOR THE HEIRS AND NEXT-OF-KIN OF KELLY ANN KELLY, ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
JASON ELLEFSON, RESPONDENT, STEVEN EIDEMILLER, DEFENDANT, SUPREME TRANSPORT SERVICES, L.L.C., ET AL., RESPONDENTS, AND LIDO'S ITALIAN MARKET CAFÉ & BAR, DEFENDANT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the defendant's request to admit as an admission by a party-opponent the plaintiff-trustee's amended complaint that included allegations of facts of which the plaintiff-trustee had no personal knowledge.

The district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the defendant's request to admit as an admission by a party-opponent the plaintiff-trustee's initial interrogatory answers when the plaintiff-trustee had no personal knowledge of factual allegations asserted in the answers.

The district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the defendant's request to admit as an admission by a party-opponent the plaintiff-trustee's supplemental interrogatory answer that included an expert's statements that the plaintiff-trustee did not expressly adopt.

The district court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded an expert toxicologist's affidavit that was offered as a party admission.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Paul H., Justice.

Took no part, Gildea, J.

Reversed and remanded.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

Appellant Kevin Kelly appeals a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals that his amended complaint, answers to interrogatories, and expert's affidavit were admissible as admissions of a party-opponent in his suit for the wrongful death of his wife. Kevin Kelly's wife, Kelly Ann Kelly, died in a collision between a semi-tractor trailer operated by a driver for Supreme Transport Services, L.L.C. and a pickup truck driven by Jason Ellefson in which Kelly Ann Kelly was a passenger. As a result of this accident, Kevin Kelly commenced a cause of action against three drivers and a bar. Before the jury was sworn, Kevin Kelly entered into Pierringer settlements with Steve Eidemiller, one of the drivers, and Lido's Café, the bar. Kevin Kelly then went to trial with respect to the remaining drivers. A Ramsey County jury found respondents Supreme Transport Services, L.L.C., David and Diana White, and D.L. Enterprises (collectively Supreme Transport ) 60% at fault and the other driver, respondent Ellefson, 40% at fault for the death of Kelly Ann Kelly. Supreme Transport moved for a new trial on the issue of liability, claiming numerous evidentiary and procedural errors. The district court denied Supreme Transport's motion for a new trial.

Supreme Transport appealed, asserting numerous alleged errors, including the district court's exclusion of all evidence of Lido's fault. In particular, Supreme Transport argued that Kevin Kelly's amended complaint, answers to interrogatories, and expert's affidavit should have been admitted as party admissions. The Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that several errors had been committed, and reversed and remanded for a new trial on the basis of the errors, including the district court's exclusion of Kevin Kelly's amended complaint, answers to interrogatories, and expert's affidavit. The court of appeals held that the amended complaint, answers to interrogatories, and expert's affidavit should have been admitted as party admissions to show the fault of Kelly Ann Kelly. Kevin Kelly filed a petition for review, which we granted solely on the issue of the admissibility of the amended complaint, answers to interrogatories, and expert's affidavit. We reverse.

On the night she died in an automobile accident, Kelly Ann Kelly joined her childhood friend, Katherine Martinson, and other friends and co-workers at Lido's Café, a restaurant and bar located in the city of Roseville. There were 15-20 people in the group. Most of the people arrived after work around 5:00 p.m. and left by 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. Six people remained until approximately 8:00 p.m. These six people were Kelly Ann Kelly, Martinson, Jason Ellefson, Steve Eidemiller, Corbin Ellefson, and Erica Eastep.

Just after 8:00 p.m., this group of six left Lido's in three vehicles, intending to meet at another Roseville bar. Kelly Ann Kelly, Martinson, and Corbin rode with Ellefson in his pickup truck. Ellefson drove, Kelly Ann Kelly rode in the front passenger seat, and Martinson and Corbin rode in the back seat. Eidemiller and Eastep each drove separately. The three vehicles proceeded westbound on Ramsey County Road C, which is a four-lane road with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour. As the three vehicles approached Fairview Avenue, they were lined up in the left westbound lane with Eidemiller leading, followed by Eastep and then Ellefson.

By the time the vehicles stopped at a traffic light at Fairview Avenue, Ellefson had moved his pickup truck into the right westbound lane and was adjacent to Eidemiller's vehicle. There was conflicting testimony about whether Ellefson and Eidemiller exchanged gestures while waiting for the traffic light to turn green, and whether they began to race as they proceeded through the intersection. Ellefson and Eidemiller denied that they were racing. Eidemiller testified that he was driving at approximately 50 miles per hour. Ellefson testified that he was driving between 50 and 55 miles per hour. Eastep testified that Ellefson and Eidemiller "took off from the stoplight more quickly than [she] did," but that they did not appear to be racing. But Martinson testified that Ellefson and Eidemiller communicated through hand gestures while stopped at the traffic light, and when the traffic light turned green, both vehicles accelerated to about 60 miles per hour. Whether racing or not, when the traffic light turned green, the three vehicles continued westbound with Eidemiller and Eastep in the left westbound lane and Ellefson in the right westbound lane.

All three drivers intended to make a left turn at Cleveland Avenue, which is approximately one-half mile west of Fairview Avenue. In anticipation of this turn, Ellefson looked over his left shoulder in preparation for moving into the left westbound lane ahead of Eidemiller. As Ellefson turned his head, a semi-tractor trailer driven by David White for Supreme Transport Services, L.L.C.*fn1 exited a parking lot on the north side of County Road C. White was taking a right turn out of the lot onto County Road C and intended to drive westbound toward Interstate 35. Eidemiller saw that the semi-tractor trailer was blocking both westbound lanes of traffic on County Road C, applied his brakes, and coasted to a stop. Apparently because Ellefson was looking in the other direction, he did not immediately notice the semi-tractor trailer blocking the road. Ellefson's passengers did see the semi-tractor trailer ...


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