Evidence – Presumptions – Statutory Presumption of Due Care in Wrongful Death Action

Consolidation of two actions arising from a multi-vehicle highway accident resulted in verdicts in both causes against appellants. One action was brought against appellants by the administratrix of a deceased driver under a wrongful death statute, and resulted in a verdict for the administratrix because of a statutory presumption of deceased’s due care. The other action was a personal injury suit by a third party against appellants and the administratrix as co-defendants, and resulted in a verdict exonerating the deceased driver, despite circumstances raising an inference of his negligence. Appellants’ motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and new trial were denied. On appeal, held, reversed and remanded for separate trials of the previously consolidated actions. In light of statutory provisions requiring jury instructions on a presumption of decedent’s due care in wrongful death actions, and factual circumstances indicating prima fade negligence on the part of the decedent, consolidation of these actions was improper and created a situation of conflicting presumptions in which the giving of meaningful jury instructions was a practical impossibility. Lambach v. Northwestern Refining Co., lll N.W.2d 345 (Minn. 1961).