Minnesota Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal of Claim That City Was Liable in Slip and Fall Case

Jul 19, 2019

A Minnesota state appeals court has affirmed the ruling of a lower court, dismissing a patron’s claim that the City of Edina (COE) was negligent when the patron slipped and fell on ice while approaching a sports facility.
In sum, the court affirmed that the condition that caused the fall was not created or maintained by the COE.
In this appeal from a district court’s grant of summary judgment dismissing appellant’s claim that respondent’s negligence caused her to slip and fall, appellant argues that the district court erred in applying recreational-use immunity under Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subds. 1, 6e, 23 (2018) and the “mere slipperiness” rule. We affirm.
The incident occurred on Jan. 31, 2015, when plaintiff Lynn Baker Handelman-Seigel was on her way to the Edina Community Center (ECC) to attend a youth basketball tournament. A few feet from the entrance, she slipped and fell on a patch of black ice that she described as approximately two basketballs long and one basketball wide. Handelman-Seigel first thought that she only sprained her ankle and attended the basketball tournament as planned. She later discovered that she had a broken ankle and suffered what she describes as a “serious knee injury.” To address her injuries, Handelman-Seigel claims that she underwent one surgery and will need “additional surgery.”
In May 2017, she sued the COE’s Independent School District #273 (ISD #273), which owns and operates the ECC, alleging negligence. In June 2018, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendant, finding that both the “mere slipperiness” rule and statutory recreational-use immunity, Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subds. 1, 6e, 23, shielded the defendant from liability against Handelman-Seigel’s claims. She then appealed.
“Negligence is the failure to exercise the care that persons of ordinary prudence would exercise under similar circumstances,” wrote the court, citing Domagala v. Rolland, 805 N.W.2d 14, 22 (Minn. 2011). Further, “the essential elements of a negligence claim are: (1) the existence of a duty of care; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) an injury was sustained; and (4) breach of the duty was the proximate cause of the injury.” Lubbers v. Anderson, 539 N.W.2d 398, 401 (Minn. 1995).
In Minnesota, the legislature has carved out special exceptions where municipal organizations are granted immunity from specific tort claims, two of which are relevant here. Under Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 6e, municipal organizations are immune from:
“Any claim based upon the construction, operation, or maintenance of any property owned or leased by the municipality that is intended or permitted to be used as a park, as an open area for recreational purposes, or for the provision of recreational services, or from any claim based on the clearing of land, removal of refuse, and creation of trails or paths without artificial surfaces, if the claim arises from a loss incurred by a user of park and recreation property or services. Nothing in this subdivision limits the liability of a municipality for conduct that would entitle a trespasser to damages against a private person, except as provided in subdivision 23.
“While Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 23(a), provides immunity against, ‘Any claim for a loss or injury arising from the use of school property or a school facility made available for public recreational activity.’ But Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 23(b) carves out the exception that, ‘Nothing in this subdivision: (1) limits the liability of a school district for conduct that would entitle a trespasser to damages against a private person.’”
The plaintiff did not dispute that the statutes apply to the instant facts. However, she argued, “the exceptions found in subdivisions 6e and 23(b)(1), which allows liability when a trespasser would be able to recover from a landowner, applies to defeat this immunity.”
To that point, under Minnesota law:
“A possessor of land who knows, or from facts within his knowledge should know, that trespassers constantly intrude upon a limited area of the land, is subject to liability for bodily harm caused to them by an artificial condition on the land, if
the condition is one which the possessor has created or maintains and
is, to his knowledge, likely to cause death or serious bodily harm to such trespassers and
is of such a nature that he has reason to believe that such trespassers will not discover it, and
the possessor has failed to exercise reasonable care to warn such trespassers of the condition and the risk involved.
Johnson v. Washington Cty., 518 N.W.2d 594, 599 (Minn. 1994) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 335).”
The appeals court found no evidence that COE “created the ice, or that (it) had either actual or constructive notice of the ice such that a fact-finder could possibly conclude that (it) ‘maintained’ the condition.
“In contrast, the school custodian submitted an affidavit declaring that custodial and maintenance staff walk the ECC sidewalks and entryways every day and are trained to treat any accumulation of snow or ice with ‘ice melt.’ This same affidavit also declared that the closest ‘Snow and Ice Event’ that occurred before Handelman-Seigel’s fall happened two days before, and the custodial staff laid down 110 pounds of ‘ice melt’ around the ECC to address any accumulation. This unrebutted evidence can only support the conclusion that, even if the ice was caused by some spectator spilling a water bottle the day of the plaintiff’s fall (as she alleged), the defendant did not have actual or constructive notice of the accumulation.”
Thus, she “cannot meet the requirement in § 335(a)(i) that the artificial condition be one that respondent created or maintained, and therefore cannot show that an exception to statutory recreational-use immunity could apply.”
Handelman-Seigel v. City of Edina; Court of Appeals of Minnesota; 2019 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 448; May 20, 2019,
Attorneys of Record: (For Appellant) Thomas F. DeVincke, Malkerson Gunn Martin LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (For Respondent) Mark R. Azman, Shamus P. O’Meara, O’Meara, Leer, Wagner & Kohl, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota.


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