• June 9, 2010

The vast majority of American lawyers started their careers reading the 1928 Palsgraf case in law school which concerned whether Helen Palsgraf could recover from a railroad for her injuries caused by a passenger getting on a train, jostled by railroad workers, which dislodged the package, which fell to the tracks, which contained fireworks, which went off, which caused a commotion, during which a large scale on the railroad platform fell and injured Palsgraf.  (A diagram might look something like this.)  Over a vigorous dissent, New York’s highest court held that Palsgraf could not recover from the railroad.  “There was nothing in the situation to suggest to the most cautious mind that the parcel wrapped in newspaper would spread wreckage through the station…”

Defendant Tom Reuben asked some buddies to help him disassemble a horse stall in a barn and, it is alleged, he was negligent in how he went about the task.  As a result, a wall fell on him — not one of his buddies he asked to help — but sadly it was a buddy, Thomas Garrett, who allegedly died as a result of the wall falling on Reuben.

Of a heart attack.  From the stress of it.  Garrett’s wife, as trustee for his heirs brought suit against Reuben asserting a negligence claim.  She had an expert offer a medical opinion that Garrett’s heart attack and death was caused by this apparently stressful eye-witness experience.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals (Worke, Shumaker, Bjorkman), highlighted that the Minnesota Supreme Court has recently held that a homeowner could not be liable for injuries to a visiting toddler whose bookcase climb ended badly.  For the toddler, the Court held (Page, J., dissenting), the realm of potential harm is much broader than the realm of reasonably foreseeable harm.  (See earlier note: Minnesota Supreme Court Ruling Against Rug Rats.)

With that as precedent, it is unsurprising that the Court of Appeals made short work of the claim by Garrett’s wife.

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