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39 William Mitchell Law Review 633 (2013)


In Domagala v. Rolland, the Minnesota Supreme Court granted review in a personal injury case that was dominated by duty and special relationship issues, even though the parties agreed that there was no special relationship between them. The case, straddling the misfeasance/nonfeasance line, was complicated by the defense theory (that the lack of a special relationship meant that the defendant owed no duty to protect or warn the plaintiff), and the plaintiff’s theory (that the defendant owed a duty of reasonable care to the plaintiff because he acted affirmatively, even if the risk to the plaintiff did not become apparent until later). At trial, the result was a set of conflicting and inconsistent jury instructions that in effect permitted Domagala to prove that Rolland was negligent, except not by either failing to warn or protect Domagala. The result was a defense verdict. Domagala appealed.

The court of appeals rejected the defense’s theory, accepted the plaintiff’s, and remanded the case for a new trial. The supreme court rejected both theories, concluding that a duty existed because the defendant affirmatively created a foreseeable risk of injury to the plaintiff, and affirmed the court of appeals’s decision to remand the case for a new trial.

This article takes a close look at Domagala. It sets out the facts, the jury instructions given by the district court, and the dilemma the instructions created for Domagala in trying to prove that Rolland was negligent without establishing that Rolland should have warned or protected him. An analysis of the court of appeals and supreme court opinions follows, including the lessons from,and questions and red flags raised by, the supreme court’s opinion. The last part is a simple conclusion.

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