Fenrich v. The Blake School and Minnesota Tort Law: A Road Map Through Special Relationships, Misfeasance/Nonfeasance, and Duty

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45 Mitchell Hamline Law Review Sua Sponte 78 (2019)


The Minnesota Supreme Court’s recent decision in Fenrich v. The Blake School is a short course on Minnesota tort law. Arising out of an accident involving a student-driven car on the way to a post-season athletic event, the case required the court to consider whether the school owed a duty to the two passengers in the other car, one of whom died in the accident. There were three interrelated duty issues in the case. First the court assessed whether the school was in a special relationship with the student, sufficient to trigger a duty to the Fenrichs. The court held that there was no special relationship between the school and student that would extend to a third party injured by the student’s negligence. Second, the court determined whether the school’s role as the facilitator in sending students to the meet constituted misfeasance or nonfeasance. The court held that the issue had to be resolved at trial. Finally, the court assessed whether the accident was foreseeable. The court held that the foreseeability issue presented a close case that had to be resolved by the trier of fact. The court’s remand raises important questions concerning the relationship of judge and jury in the resolution of the key issues in the case. The special relationship issue, misfeasance/nonfeasance issue, and foreseeability issues recur in Minnesota tort law.

The purpose of this article is to put the issues in a broader context and evaluate the supreme court’s treatment of them in Fenrich. Following a short statement of facts, this article considers the duty issues in order.