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The Minnesota Supreme Court has made it clear under what circumstances it is proper to direct a verdict. Ordinarily, it is only where there is an entire absence of evidence tending to establish negligence that a court can enter upon the province of the jury and direct a verdict for the defendant. Where reasonable men may differ as to what constitutes ordinary care and proximate causal connection upon the evidence presented, questions of negligence and proximate cause, as well as contributory negligence, are questions of fact for the jury; and it is only in the clearest of cases where the facts are undisputed and it is plain that all reasonable men can draw only one conclusion that the question of negligence becomes one of law.
Plaintiff worker was injured when the defendant employee drove a tractor-trailer off a scale before the plaintiff worker fully removed blocks holding the truck's rear tires. A block struck the plaintiff employee’s leg, resulting in its amputation. Plaintiff workmens’ compensation carrier paid benefits to the worker. Plaintiffs sought recovery from the defendants, the employee and his employer, for the negligence of the employee. The district court directed a verdict in favor of the defendants and denied plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial. Plaintiffs appealed.
Did the district court err in directing a verdict in favor of the defendants and in denying the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial?
The court reversed the judgment and granted a new trial. A directed verdict was proper only in the clearest of cases. The jury could have found that the employee was negligent in a variety of ways, including failing to maintain a proper lookout, failing to ascertain that the block was not removed, pausing sufficiently after the pressure on the block was released, or failing to go slowly enough to permit extrication of the block. The employee's admission that he did not observe certain customary procedures was sufficient to sustain plaintiffs' burden of proof as to custom. It was reasonably foreseeable that one could be injured in removing a block between the rear outside tires if a tractor-trailer was driven at such a speed that there was not time to get the block out. The exact manner in which a worker would be injured under such circumstances need not be perceived. Accordingly, plaintiffs were entitled to a new trial.