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Ouradnik v. Ouradnik

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

May 8, 2017

Corey John Ouradnik, Appellant,
v.
Robert John Ouradnik, Respondent.

         Pine County District Court File No. 58-CV-15-279

          James S. Ballentine, Matthew J. Barber, Richard L. Tousignant, Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Troy A. Poetz, Matthew W. Moehrle, Steven A. Bader, Rajkowski Hansmeier, Ltd., St. Cloud, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Considered and decided by Kirk, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Bratvold, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         The recreational-use statute, Minn. Stat. §§ 604A.20-.27 (2016), does not apply when a landowner does not offer private land to the public for recreational purposes.

          OPINION

          BRATVOLD, Judge

         Appellant-son was hunting on respondent-father's land and was injured while climbing into a deer stand. Appealing from a judgment, appellant challenges the district court's decision granting partial summary judgment in favor of respondent. Appellant argues that the district court erred in its interpretation of Minn. Stat. § 604A.22, the recreational-use statute, and, as a result, erroneously instructed the jury on the duty of care. Because it is undisputed that respondent did not offer his hunting land for public use, we conclude the recreational-use statute does not apply to limit respondent's liability. Thus, the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment for respondent and in its jury instructions. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

         FACTS

         Respondent Robert Ouradnik owns approximately 40 acres of land in Pine County; he lives on the property with his wife and hunts there with his adult children. Appellant Corey Ouradnik is one of Robert's three adult sons. Before his sons were allowed to hunt on his land, Robert expected them to notify him, which they did. Robert has excluded extended family from his hunting land and has not opened the land to the public for hunting or other recreational activities. Robert has posted "no trespassing" signs on his land.

         On November 10, 2012, Corey climbed into a deer stand on Robert's property. The stand was mounted on a tree and accessed by climbing up board steps that were attached to the tree trunk. A board gave way, causing Corey to fall approximately 16 feet to the ground. Corey injured his right leg and left ankle and needed surgery.

         Robert built and maintained the stand from which Corey fell; the stand was one of several that Robert built sometime after he bought the property in approximately 2002. Shortly before the accident occurred, Robert re-secured the steps, which were fastened to the tree with nails, by counter-sinking six-inch screws to "make them more secure." Although Robert completed this task with several deer stands, he did not add screws to the board that failed because he ran out of screws.

         Corey filed suit, and Robert moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was "shielded from liability" under Minnesota's recreational-use statute, Minn. Stat § 604A.20. The district court concluded that the recreational-use statute applied to limit Robert's liability and granted partial summary judgment because Robert gave permission to Corey to use the land without charge for recreational purposes. The recreational-use statute, however, provides that a qualifying landowner continues to have the duties owed to a trespasser. The district court concluded that whether Robert was liable under the "trespasser exception" raised fact questions and set the case for trial.

         The jury found that Robert did not have actual knowledge that the steps were likely to cause injury, the condition of the steps was not hidden from Corey, Corey was 95% at fault and Robert was 5% at fault. The district court directed entry of judgment for Robert. Corey moved the district court for a new trial, arguing in part, that Robert's duties were broader than under the trespasser exception and the district court erred in instructing the jury on Robert's duties. The district court denied the motion, and this appeal follows.

         ISSUE

         Did the district court err in concluding that the recreational-use statute applies to limit respondent's liability when it is undisputed that respondent's private land ...


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