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Dewitt v. London Road Rental Center, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

August 7, 2017

Craig Dewitt, Cross-Appellant,
v.
London Road Rental Center, Inc., Respondent, Jach's, Inc., d/b/a The Tower Tap & Restaurant, et al., Appellants, Marlee Enterprise, Inc., Defendant.

         St. Louis County District Court File No. 69DU-CV-15-1948

          Scott Wilson, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Robert Edwards, Robert N. Edwards, Chtd., Anoka, Minnesota (for cross-appellant)

          Jacob M. Tomczik, Cheryl Hood Langel, McCollum, Crowley, Moschet, Miller & Laak, Ltd., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Timothy P. Tobin, Abigail A. Pettit, Gislason & Hunter LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellants)

          Considered and decided by Schellhas, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Smith, John, Judge.[*]

         SYLLABUS

         The mere possibility that something other than the defendant's negligence caused a plaintiff's injuries does not preclude the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur when evidence reasonably tends to exclude other possible causes.

          OPINION

          SCHELLHAS, Judge

         This appeal is taken from a judgment in an action arising out of personal injuries suffered by cross-appellant Craig DeWitt[1] while seated at a picnic table that appellants Jach's, Inc., d/b/a The Tower Tap & Restaurant, and Chester Morgan (collectively, Tower Tap) rented from respondent London Road Rental Center, Inc. DeWitt argues that the district court erred by dismissing his res ipsa loquitur claim against Tower Tap and imposing discovery sanctions for his failure to produce unlimited medical authorizations. Tower Tap argues that the district court erred by enforcing exculpatory and indemnity clauses in the rental contract to require them to pay London Road's attorney fees and costs. Because we conclude that the district court erred by dismissing DeWitt's res ipsa loquitur claim but otherwise reject the arguments on appeal, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTS

         Tower Tap rented folding picnic tables from respondent London Road for use on Tower Tap's premises during Ma and Pa Kettle Days in August 2012. Upon delivery of the tables, Tower Tap signed a contract that contains both exculpatory and indemnification clauses.

         DeWitt visited Tower Tap on the evening of August 11, 2012, and sat at one of the picnic tables. Around 11:00 p.m., the picnic table collapsed, pinning DeWitt's hips between the tabletop and the bench seat. DeWitt suffered serious injuries that required surgery to his left hip and aggravated preexisting low back pain and a previous shoulder injury. Following the incident, both Tower Tap and London Road examined the picnic table without determining what caused it to collapse.

         DeWitt commenced this action against Tower Tap and London Road, seeking to hold both liable for negligence and relying in part on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Tower Tap asserted a cross-claim against London Road for common-law indemnity, and London Road asserted cross-claims for contractual indemnity and contribution.

         Under the requirements of Minn. R. Civ. P. 35.04, DeWitt executed authorizations for the release of his medical records. DeWitt gave an unlimited release for providers who had treated him only for injuries suffered at Tower Tap, but limited his authorization for release of records from other providers to left hip, low back, and right shoulder pain and injuries. After unsuccessfully conferring on the issue, Tower Tap moved to compel DeWitt to provide unlimited authorizations and sought attorney fees and costs in connection with its motion. The district court granted Tower Tap's motion and fee request, ordering DeWitt's counsel, Robert Edwards, to pay $2, 284 in attorney fees and $246.62 in costs.

         Both Tower Tap and London Road moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment to Tower Tap on DeWitt's claim of res ipsa loquitur and granted summary judgment against Tower Tap on its claim for common-law indemnity and liability and to London Road on its claim for contractual indemnity.[2] The court subsequently entered a $19, 809.20 costs-and-disbursements judgment against DeWitt and in favor of Tower Tap and a stipulated $47, 000 judgment against Tower Tap and in favor of London Road on its contractual indemnity claim.

         This appeal by DeWitt and Tower Tap follows.

         ISSUES

         I. Did the district court err by granting summary judgment to Tower Tap on DeWitt's res ipsa loquitur claim?

         II. Did the district court err by awarding attorney fees and costs as a discovery sanction for DeWitt's failure to provide unlimited medical releases?

         III. Did the district court err by granting summary judgment to London Road on Tower Tap's common-law indemnity claim and ...


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