On October 26, 2020, US District Court – District of Minnesota Judge Patrick J. Schiltz granted summary judgment in favor of a Larson • King client on a claim for “greater-than-ordinary negligence.” In that case, Larson • King represented an obstacle course race organizer who hosted an event at a ski resort in 2016. The Plaintiff suffered a significant injury while attempting to complete an obstacle, and later commenced suit, seeking millions of dollars of recovery for future medical treatment, pain and suffering, and wage loss associated with her injury. The case involved complex discovery and expert issues, and further involved analysis of the interplay between waiver provisions, Minnesota pleading requirements and statutory issues.
Following a successful challenge to Plaintiff’s efforts to amend her allegations at the close of discovery, at the summary judgment stage, Plaintiff argued that the evidence supported a claim for ordinary, greater-than-ordinary, gross, and willful and wanton negligence. Rugged Races argued that (1) there is no distinct cause of action for gross negligence in Minnesota; (2) Minn. Stat. § 604.055 did not create a cause of action for “greater than ordinary negligence”; (3) even if such a cause of action exists, the evidence established that the Defendant exercised reasonable care.
The matter was extensively briefed, and after hearing lengthy oral argument the Court rejected Plaintiff’s arguments and determined that “no reasonable jury could find, based on the evidence in the record, that [the race organizer] acted with greater‐than‐ordinary negligence in connection with the 2016 race,” and further found that no reasonable jury could find that the Defendant’s actions caused the injuries alleged.
In doing so, the Court acknowledged that Minnesota “does not recognize a separate cause of action for gross negligence or for any other type of negligence that exceeds ordinary negligence” unless required to by statute or contract. However, the Court determined that because the waivers signed by Plaintiff included the term “ordinary negligence” the Court was required to evaluate a spectrum of negligence claims, including greater-than-ordinary and gross negligence. The Court also found that “there is room on the spectrum between negligence that is ordinary and negligence that is gross…”
As has been the recent trend in Minnesota, Plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking to avoid valid and enforceable waivers may seek to plead around the waiver by alleging “greater-than-ordinary” negligence, relying on the “spectrum” of negligence claims discussed by the district court. As evidenced by this decision, Minnesota’s definition of “greater-than-ordinary” negligence is still evolving, but remains a high standard.