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Schmidt v. Oaks

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

August 12, 2013

Steven C. Schmidt, Respondent,
v.
Lewis Marion Oaks, III, et al., Appellants.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Crow Wing County District Court File No. 18-CV-10-5211

Wilbur W. Fluegel, Fluegel Law Office, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Priscilla Faris, Jennifer E. Olson, Lord & Faris Law Office, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

James A. Wade, Michele Miller, Johnson, Killen & Seiler, P.A., Duluth, Minnesota (for appellants)

Considered and decided by Larkin, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Stauber, Judge.

LARKIN, Judge

In this appeal following a jury verdict, appellants challenge (1) the district court's denial of their motion for judgment as a matter of law, (2) the district court's admission of testimony regarding a government agency's intent in granting an easement, and (3) the district court's denial of their motion for a new trial. We affirm.

FACTS

This case arises from a collision that occurred on February 2, 2006, involving respondent Steven C. Schmidt, who was driving a snowmobile, and appellant Lewis Marion Oaks III who was driving a truck owned by appellant Minnesota Power Company (MPC). After a six-day trial, a jury found that Oaks was negligent in the operation of the truck and that his negligence was the direct cause of the collision, which occurred at the intersection of the Paul Bunyan Trail (trail) and Rosewood Street (Rosewood) in Crow Wing County. The jury also found Schmidt negligent in the operation of his snowmobile. The jury apportioned 70% of the fault to Oaks and 30% to Schmidt.

The trail is owned and operated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR placed stop signs at the intersection directing traffic on Rosewood to stop for the trail. On March 18, 2005, the DNR granted to the City of Jenkins (city) "an easement and right of way for road or trail purposes" for the portion of the trail that crosses Rosewood. The collision occurred when Schmidt's snowmobile, which was traveling north on the trail, struck the rear of Oak's truck as it crossed the trail traveling west.

Prior to trial, appellants moved the district court under Minn. R. Evid. 201 "[f]or an [o]rder of the [c]ourt taking judicial notice that Rosewood Street, from Highway 371 to its end as platted in 2004, was a public road on February 2, 2006, and instructing the jury accordingly." The district court ruled that whether or not the portion of Rosewood that crossed the trail was public was a question of fact for the jury.

At trial, Schmidt called several witnesses including two DNR employees. One DNR witness testified that Rosewood was not developed at the time of the collision. He further testified that the easement was not finalized until the city passed a resolution, which occurred after the collision date. The other DNR witness testified that the road did not become public until the city passed a resolution adopting the road and that the distinction between private and public roads is important to the DNR because it determines the trail signage: private roads yield to the trail, whereas the trail yields to public roads.

Schmidt also called Seth Bayer, an accident reconstructionist, to testify. Bayer concluded that Oaks's truck was traveling between 18 and 19 miles per hour at the time of impact and that the truck could not have reached that speed if Oaks had stopped at the intersection. Bayer also concluded that Schmidt's snowmobile was traveling between 46 and 51 miles per hour at the time of impact. Bayer testified that the driver of the truck should have stopped before crossing the trail and if he could not see down the trail because of obstructions, the driver should have pulled out slowly, inch by inch, to look down the trail.

Schmidt testified that he did not know if he exceeded the 50 mile-per-hour speed limit on the trail but that he was operating his snowmobile at a proper speed when he saw a truck come out in front of him and struck the left rear of the truck. He did not know if he applied his brakes.

At the close of Schmidt's case, appellants moved for judgment as a matter of law, and the district court denied the motion. Appellants proceeded with their case and called the following witnesses.

Steven Lusk was an MPC employee and Oaks's passenger during the collision. Lusk testified that he and Oaks had a procedure at the intersection whereby Oaks would stop at the trail and look south and Lusk would look north. Lusk testified that Oaks stopped at the intersection prior to the collision, though he did not recall seeing the stop sign. As they crossed the intersection, he glanced south and did not see any oncoming traffic.

Oaks testified that, when he arrived at the intersection, he stopped at the DNR's stop sign and looked both ways. He did not see anything on the trail, so he proceeded across. As he drove across the ...


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