Nelson v. Holand

Citation272 Minn. 522,139 N.W.2d 518
Decision Date31 December 1965
Docket NumberNo. 39637,39637
PartiesAndrew NELSON, Respondent, v. Vilhelm HOLAND, Respondent, and Erick Fagerholm, Appellant.
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)

Syllabus by the Court

1. Proximate cause, like negligence and contributory negligence, is a fact question which ordinarily must be left to the jury, and it is only where different minds can reasonably arrive at only one result that the fact issues become a question of law, and even where there is a finding of negligence, proximate cause generally presents a jury issue.

2. Judgment notwithstanding the verdict may not be granted if there is room for a difference of opinion among reasonable persons as to whether negligence existed and whether it was a proximate cause of the collision.

3. The jury's finding of negligence on the part of the appellant may well have been predicated on excessive speed in entering the intersection; on his failure to keep a proper lookout; or on failure to keep his car under control and to exercise the caution required upon approaching a flashing yellow signal at a time when other vehicular traffic was about to enter the intersection from another direction.

Miley, Nord & Webster, St. Paul, for appellant.

Roy A. Schwappach, Minneapolis, for plaintiff.

A. T. Whaley and James C. Beckstrom, Minneapolis, for defendant.

NELSON, Justice.

This action arises out of an intersection collision between a pickup truck operated by defendant Vilhelm Holand and an automobile operated by defendant Erick Fagerholm in which plaintiff, Andrew Nelson, was a passenger. Plaintiff had a verdict against both defendants. After the court denied his alternative motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial, defendant Fagerholm appealed from the judgment.

If all conflicts in the evidence are resolved in favor of the prevailing party below, the facts appear to be as follows: At about 6:30 a.m. on May 9, 1960, appellant was driving his automobile west on 50th Street in the city of Minneapolis on the way to work at Minneapolis Honeywell. Riding with him in the car were three passengers, plaintiff seated in the right front seat and a Miss Cochran and a Mrs. McMurtrie in the rear seat. At the same time Holand was driving his pickup truck north on France Avenue. Both were approaching the intersection of 50th Street and France Avenue South, which is regulated by automatic semaphores. The weather was clear and the road conditions good on the day and time in question. Traffic was not heavy at that time of day. The semaphores were flashing amber for the traffic on 50th Street and red for the traffic on France Avenue. The testimony is in conflict as to what occurred leading up to the accident, but it is not disputed that the car and truck collided at the intersection causing injuries to plaintiff.

Fagerholm testified that in the block leading to the intersection he was driving 30 miles an hour but slowed to about 20 or 25 miles per hour as he drove into the intersection. His testimony was that he saw the Holand truck some 50 to 75 feet south from the intersection and that it seemed to be slowing to stop for the flashing red semaphore. He then looked to the right and proceeded to pass through the intersection. Then plaintiff shouted that the truck was going to hit them and Fagerholm looked to his left again and saw the truck almost upon him. According to the record the Holand truck was already in the intersection when Fagerholm turned his head to look again to the left. The truck came to a stop in the middle of the intersection, and the Fagerholm car whirled around and came to a stop at the curb facing east on 50th Street.

On cross-examination plaintiff's attention was called to a statement he had given 2 days after the accident. The statement was read to him and he adopted it as true. The following as a portion of that statement:

'* * * We were all enroute to work and were moving in a generally westerly direction on West 50th St. at a speed of about 20 miles an hour as Mr. Fagerholm slowed down before we entered the intersection. I remember that when I first noticed the truck I would say that it was about thirty to forty feet to the south of the south edge of the intersection and although I would not be able to say how fast the truck was going, it seemed to be going slowly as it approached the intersection but then it speeded up and the driver of the truck did not stop at all for the flashing red light against traffic on France Ave., and he headed north on France right into the intersection. The traffic signal light was flashing amber for traffic on 50th St. and this is the usual and we travel on the same road most every morning. When I first saw the truck at 30 to 40 feet distance from the intersection I would say that our car was just starting to enter the intersection, with the front of the auto about even with the east edge of the intersection and at that time I thought that the truck would stop for the stop sign however it just contined on into the intersection and in fact seemed to speed up as though the driver of the truck had stepped on the accelerator rather than the brake.'

Mrs. McMurtrie, who was sitting in the left rear seat of Fagerholm's car, saw the truck some 30 to 40 feet back from the intersection and going at a moderate speed. She said it appeared to speed up as it entered the intersection and that it did not stop for any signal. Miss Cochran did not see the truck until it was a few feet away and after plaintiff had shouted, 'It's going to hit us.'

Holand's testimony was somewhat in conflict with that of Fagerholm and his passengers. He testified that he came to a full and complete stop at 50th Street in obedience to the flashing red semaphore; that he looked first to the left and then to the right and saw no traffic approaching; that he pulled ahead a little and looked left again and seeing nothing coming from that direction started forward; that when he was 5 to 8 feet past the centerline of 50th Street he 'just happened to look up' and saw the Fagerholm car; and that he then immediately applied his brakes and came to a stop leaving about a foot of skid marks. In discussing what happened Holand said, 'Well, just as I stopped there was this car, and it appeared to touch just the rear of his front fender and door and my bumper caught on his rear quarter section and he proceeded on and spun around.' His impression was that the Fagerholm car was 'going quite fast,' but he did not claim that it was going over 30 miles per hour.

Fagerholm admitted that he did not honk his horn; that he did not turn his wheels to the right or left prior to the accident; and that he did not remember applying his brakes prior to the accident. Mrs. McMurtrie testified that she cannot remeber Fagerholm's honking his horn, applying his brakes, or turning his wheels to the right or left prior to the accident. It would appear that everyone in the Fagerholm vehicle except the driver watched the Holand vehicle as it approached the intersection. Miss Cochran, however, stated that she did not see the truck until plaintiff shouted, 'It's going to hit us.' It appears that Fagerholm did not see the truck during this period and does not know whether Holdand stopped for the red light or not. Fagerholm claims that Holand's truck struck his automobile broadside, but this would ignore the existence of scratch marks on the front quarter section of the Fagerholm car. It would appear that the damage to the front of the Fagerholm car furnishes physical evidence which lends support to the testimony of Holand.

Fagerholm brought a cross-claim against Holand for indemnity or contribution, and during the trial he made several motions for a directed verdict, which the trial court denied. Fagerholm on appeal contends that the trial court erred in denying his motions for a directed verdict; his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict; and his motion for a new trial.

The trial court in its charge to the jury defined the issues as follows:

'* * * Yesterday afternoon, in chambers, each defendant withdrew his claim of contributory negligence or assumption of risk on the part of the plaintiff, so that is no longer an issue in the case, and I have ruled that in this case this was not an unavoidable accident and that under the circumstances of this case the plaintiff is entitled to recover from one or both of the defendants. So the issues as they remain are substantially these: First, were both defendants guilty of negligence that was a direct cause of the accident and the resulting injuries? Second, if both were not so guilty, which of the two was guilty of negligence that was a proximate cause or direct cause of the accident and the resulting injuries? And three, after you make that determination, after you determine whether your verdict is to be against both defendants or against just one of them, you will determine the amount of damages to which the plaintiff is entitled.

'Now, if you find that there was negligence on the part of either or both, it is the law that something more is necessary before the negligent person is responsible. I mean by that that the negligence must have been what we usually refer to as a proximate or direct cause of the accident and the resulting damages.

'Even if a person is negligent, he is not responsible unless his negligence was at least one of the actual causes of what happened, and negligence makes no difference unless the accident and resulting injuries were in fact caused or brought about, at least in part, by that negligence and not by some other intervening, efficient cause.

'Now, it goes without saying, from what I have said, that the acts of one or two or more...

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5 cases
  • Staub v. Myrtle Lake Resort, LLC
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • September 22, 2021
    ...... See Osborne , 749 N.W.2d at 375 ; Nelson v. Holand , 272 Minn. 522, 139 N.W.2d 518, 521–22 (1965). "Generally, whether the defendant's negligence proximately caused the plaintiff's ......
  • Staub v. Myrtle Lake Resort, LLC
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • September 22, 2021
    ...factor-in other words, more than one proximate cause-that contributes to an injury. See Osborne, 749 N.W.2d at 375; Nelson v. Holand, 139 N.W.2d 518, 521-22 (Minn. 1965). "Generally, whether the defendant's negligence proximately caused the plaintiff's injuries is a question of fact for the......
  • Filas v. Daher
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • May 17, 1974
    ...... Campbell v. Siever, 253 Minn. 257, 91 N.W.2d 474 (1958); Nelson v. Holand, 272 Minn. 522, 139 N.W.2d 518 (1965).         It has also been established in Minnesota, as well as in other jurisdictions, that ......
  • Brown v. Arthur Schuster, Inc.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • May 10, 1974
    ...... Campbell v. Siever, 253 Minn. 257, 91 N.W.2d 474 (1958); Nelson v. Holand, 272 Minn. 522, 139 N.W.2d 518 (1965).         The trial court was rightfully concerned with the absence of strong evidence of ......
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