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Lietz v. Northern States Power Co.

July 27, 2006

GERALD LIETZ, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, JAENTY, INC., D/B/A TACO JOHN'S RESTAURANT, APPELLANT,
v.
NORTHERN STATES POWER COMPANY, RESPONDENT,
SEREN INNOVATIONS, INC., RESPONDENT, CABLE CONSTRUCTORS, INC., RESPONDENT, SIRTI, LTD., RESPONDENT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. An object need not be completely installed in order to qualify as an "improvement to real property" under Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2004).

2. Negligence during the installation process can lead to the "defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property" under Minn. Stat. § 541.051.

3. When an anchor was not installed correctly and presented a safety hazard at the time of plaintiff's alleged injuries, the anchor was in defective and unsafe condition within the meaning of section 541.051.

4. While it may not be necessary to show proximate cause between a defective and unsafe condition and an injury in order to show the injury arose out of the defective and unsafe condition within the meaning of section 541.051, such a causal connection is sufficient to meet the requirements of section 541.051.

5. Viewing evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, there is proximate cause between the defective and unsafe condition of the anchor and the plaintiff's alleged injuries; therefore plaintiff's injuries arose out of defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property within the meaning of section 541.051.

Affirmed.

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

Dissenting, Page, J.

Took no part, Hanson and Gildea, JJ.

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

OPINION

In late 2001 and early 2002, appellant Jaenty, Inc. (Jaenty) brought an action against respondents Northern States Power Co. (NSP), Seren Innovations, Inc. (Seren), Cable Constructors, Inc. (CCI) and Sirti, Ltd. (Sirti) to recover for damages sustained in a gas explosion in December of 1998. The district court granted respondents' motions for summary judgment based on the two-year statute of limitations found in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2004). The court of appeals, in a split decision, affirmed the district court. Lietz v. N. States Power Co., No. A04-901, 2005 WL 44905, at *4 (Minn. App. Jan. 11, 2005). We agree that Jaenty's suit is barred by section 541.051 and therefore affirm.

On December 11, 1998, while installing a utility pole support anchor (the anchor) in St. Cloud, Minnesota, employees of CCI pierced a gas line owned by NSP, causing a natural gas leak. The installation of the anchor was part of a project by Seren to construct a fiber-optic communication system in the area. Seren had hired Sirti to plan the project, and CCI was hired to do the actual installation. The anchor was a steel rod, five feet six inches in length, with a helix at the bottom that acted as a bit during installation. The anchor was intended to support the utility pole via a guy line. The anchor and guy line were intended to balance the weight of the fiber-optic cable and keep the pole upright. On the date of the explosion, CCI was installing anchors in St. Cloud in preparation for the installation of fiber-optic cable.

After breaking a hole in the sidewalk with a jackhammer, the CCI workers placed an auger, or "anchor cranker," on top of the anchor and began to auger the anchor into the ground. After the anchor had bored to a depth of approximately one and one-half to two feet, it hit a hard object, later determined to be a large slab of granite. In an attempt to break through the obstruction, the workers removed the auger and struck the top of the anchor with a sledgehammer. They then placed the auger on top of the anchor and resumed boring. Everything appeared normal until the top of the anchor was roughly 12 to 18 inches above the surface of the ground. At that time, the workers ...


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