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Renswick v. Wenzel - 819 N.W.2d 198 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012)

Rule:

An appellate court reviews a trial court's denial of a motion for a new trial for an abuse of discretion. It gives due deference to the jury in its fact-finding role, refusing to set aside a jury verdict unless it is manifestly and palpably contrary to the evidence viewed as a whole and in the light most favorable to the verdict.

Facts:

Plaintiff New Year's Eve party guest Kari Renswick tumbled down the stairs into Defendant Jason Wenzel's basement, breaking both her wrists. She sued Wenzel for negligence. The question at trial was the reason for Renswick's fall; Wenzel asserted that the fall resulted from Renswick's being under the influence of drugs and alcohol, while Renswick asserted that it resulted from Wenzel's negligent failure to adequately light the stairway landing or to warn her about its dangerous design. The jury found them equally negligent, and the district court awarded Renswick damages accordingly. Wenzel unsuccessfully moved the district court to order judgment in his favor or, in the alternative, a new trial. 

Issue:

(a) Was Wenzel entitled to a new trial because the evidence failed to support an award of damages for future pain and disability?

(b) Did the district court abuse its discretion when it refused to instruct the jury that Renswick's use of marijuana and methamphetamine constituted negligence per se?

Answer:

(a) No (b) No

Conclusion:

(a) The district court held that the jury's verdict was supported by Renswick's testimony that, at trial, she still suffered pain. The holding has factual support, as Renswick testified that she continued to take oxycodone pain-medication for wrist pain. The appellate court recognized that a different jury might not have been persuaded by this testimony, but based on the settled caselaw, the testimony was enough to sustain a finding of future pain; (b) The jury in fact found Renswick negligent after Wenzel argued that it should deem Renswick negligent specifically because she consumed alcohol and drugs and entered the darkened home under their influence. Regardless of whether a jury finds a party negligent based on a per se rule or on its own fact-finding discretion, the effect is the same because a finding of negligence per se did not prohibit the jury from considering comparative negligence. 

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