Article Written by Mike Steenson, Bell Distinguished Professor of Law at Mitchell Hamline.
Fenrich v. The Blake School  is the third installment in a series of decisions by the Minnesota Supreme Court involving the foreseeability issue in a “close case.” Combined with Montemayor v. Sebright Products, Inc., and Senogles v. Carlson, the trilogy effectively establishes not an overt “close cases” rule, but rather an an approach that favors allowing the trier of fact to resolve foreseeability issues instead of the court where conflicting inferences may be drawn from the facts.
The case arose out of an accident that resulted in the death of Gary Fenrich and serious injuries to his wife, JeanAnn Fenrich, when a car driven by T.M., 16-year-old Blake high school student who was driving a volunteer coach and two teammates to an out-of-season Nike cross-country meet, crossed the centerline and hit the Fenrich car.
Fenrich, individually and as her husband’s trustee, brought suit against the school, the head coach, the assistant coach, and volunteer coach. Following the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants and the court of appeals’ affirmance, although on different grounds, the supreme court granted review. The supreme court agreed with the district court and court of appeals in concluding “that the school went beyond passive inaction by assuming supervision and control over its athletic team’s trip to Sioux Falls.”
While the court of appeals held that the evidence was insufficient to establish that injury to third parties was foreseeable, the supreme court held that it was.
The facts pointed toward the school’s assumption of responsibility of the activities of the team members. The head coach encouraged the team to participate in the meet, an assistant coach paid the bulk registration fee for the participants and coordinated the transportation for team members, and expressly approved the plan to have T.M. drive to the meet, but without giving him any specific directions. The assistant coach told the volunteer coach, also a teenager, who was riding in the car with T.M., to monitor T.M., but gave no specific instructions to the volunteer coach as to how he should do that.
The court also noted that there was evidence of distracted driving by T.M. The supreme court thought that given those facts, “[a] reasonable factfinder could conclude that, under these circumstances, it was foreseeable that a teenage driver on a long trip, in a car with three other teenagers, could get distracted and collide with another driver.”
The dissenting opinion by Justice Anderson, joined by Chief Justice Gildea, is a parallel view of negligence law, but one that gives courts greater latitude in resolving the duty issue, including the foundational foreseeability issue.
In the concluding paragraph of the opinion the court referred to Senogles and Montemayor and noted that as in those two cases, “foreseeability is at least a close call,” which means that summary judgment is inappropriate on the duty issue and that the case should have gone to trial. The court added that nothing in the “decision prevents the school from arguing at trial the specific elements of negligence: that the school had no duty because its conduct did not create a foreseeable risk of injury to Fenrich; that the school did not breach a duty; and that the school’s conduct was not the proximate cause of the injuries.”
 Fenrich v. The Blake School, No. A17-0063, 2018 WL 6072429, at *1 (Minn. Nov. 21, 2018).
 Montemayor v. Sebright Products, Inc., 898 N.W.2d 623 (Minn. 2017).
 Senogles v. Carlson, 902 N.W.2d 38 (Minn. 2017).