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Fenrich v. The Blake School

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 5, 2017

JeanAnn Fenrich, individually, and as trustee for the heirs of Gary Fenrich, Appellant,
v.
The Blake School, et al., Respondents.

         Watonwan County District Court File No. 83-CV-14-612

          Kenneth R. White, Law Office of Kenneth R. White, P.C., Mankato, Minnesota; and Ryan B. Magnus, Mankato, Minnesota; and Jennifer L. Thon, Jones Law Office, Mankato, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Nicole R. Weinand, Law Offices of Thomas P. Stilp, Golden Valley, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Considered and decided by Reilly, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Judge; and Larkin, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         Because the risk of an automobile accident in this particular case was not foreseeable, respondent school did not assume a duty of reasonable care to the general public by agreeing that one of its students would drive himself and other students to an out-of-town, extra-curricular activity in his family's vehicle.

          OPINION

          JOHNSON, Judge.

         A high-school student caused an automobile accident while driving himself and other students to an extra-curricular activity in his family's vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle was killed, and a passenger of the other vehicle was injured. The issue in this appeal is whether the student's school may be held liable to the persons in the other vehicle on the ground that the school was negligent. The district court answered that question in the negative, reasoning that a school does not owe a duty of reasonable care to the general public to protect against the tortious conduct of its students. We conclude that, in the circumstances of this case, the school is entitled to summary judgment because the automobile accident was not foreseeable. Therefore, we affirm.

         FACTS

         The Blake School is a private school in the Twin Cities, with a high school in Minneapolis. In 2011, the high school sponsored a cross-country running team that participated in inter-scholastic meets governed by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL). The high school employed a head coach and a part-time assistant coach for the cross-country team.

         One week after the end of the MSHSL cross-country season, Nike Inc. hosted the Nike Cross Nationals Heartland Regional cross-country meet in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Several weeks before the Nike meet, the head coach sent an e-mail message to all team members and their parents, stating that "all varsity and top JV runners are encouraged to participate" in the Nike meet. Because the Nike meet was to occur after the MSHSL season, the school's coaches determined that team members could not participate in the Nike meet on behalf of the school and, thus, that the school could not provide uniforms, transportation, or other resources. The assistant coach informed team members that they would be responsible for their own transportation and lodging. This information also was posted on the team's website. The school's coaches also determined that they could not conduct practices after the MSHSL season. A former team member, who had graduated from the school one and one-half years earlier and sometimes assisted on a volunteer basis, was available to lead "captains' practices" during the week between the end of the MSHSL season and the Nike meet.

         During that week, the assistant coach stopped by one of the captains' practices to talk to team members to "make sure that they talked to their parents about the lodging and transportation." Some team members said that they would like to ride to the Nike meet in the assistant coach's vehicle. Three days before the Nike meet, the mother of T.M., a member of the team, sent an e-mail message to the head coach and the assistant coach concerning T.M.'s transportation to the Nike meet:

[T.M.], his dad and I just finished a conversation about transportation for the race this weekend. It sounds like [T.M.] (and the boys) would like to have a caravan down and back with you. We are very comfortable with [T.M.]'s driving skills and he's legal now to have passengers, and we are fine with him taking our car. Given the long distance though, we would like to know that he is following you, and won't be venturing to Sioux Falls and back without an adult at least in rear view mirrors. All we would need is you to confirm that is the plan, and perhaps your cell phone, so that we have a way to reach an adult if need be. I'm not able to go this weekend. Please know that [T.M.'s father] is willing to drive as well, if you would prefer that, but we understand also that "Coach plus kids" sounds like a more fun venture for [T.M.] and the boy team runners. That's what we are hearing tonight anyway. . . . Please call if you want to discuss. . . . Let me know.

         The assistant coach responded by writing, "That works, we will drive in a ...


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