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Steilen v. Cabela's Wholesale, Inc.

Supreme Court of South Dakota

January 24, 2018

ANNETTE STEILEN, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CABELA'S WHOLESALE, INC., Defendant and Appellee.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON JANUARY 8, 2018

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT DAVISON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE PATRICK T. SMITH Judge

          R. SHAWN TORNOW Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorney for plaintiff and appellant.

          GARY P. THIMSEN MORGAN F. BREKKE of Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith, PC Attorneys for defendant and appellee.

          SEVERSON, Justice

         [¶1.] During the settling of jury instructions, plaintiff requested two instructions on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. The circuit court denied her requested instructions after concluding that they were not warranted by the evidence presented at trial. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

         Background

         [¶2.] On June 7, 2012, Annette Steilen and her now-husband Paul Steilen were at the Cabela's store in Mitchell, South Dakota, looking for items for their new camper. As Annette was walking down the camper aisle, she heard Paul comment, "I think this is what we're looking for." Paul was behind Annette, and Annette was almost to the end of the aisle. She turned toward Paul to see to what he was referring. She explained that as she turned, the top of her left shoulder "brushed" a heavy drop-down steel receiver hitch. The hitch fell from Cabela's shelving unit. As the hitch fell to the ground, it hit Annette's left wrist. She explained that she immediately yelled out and reacted to the pain by swearing and crying. Paul turned around and asked her what happened. She told Paul that the hitch "just fell out of the rack and hit [her]." She also told him that "it just hurts like hell." She and Paul picked up the hitch and returned it to the display rack or a nearby shelf. They decided to leave Cabela's.

         [¶3.] As Paul and Annette were leaving, they reported the incident to an employee. The employee referred them to Doug Haas, the store's hard lines manager. Annette asked for and was given ice. Haas prepared an incident report based on the information relayed to him by Paul and Annette. Describing the incident, he wrote: "customer brushed/bumped a receiver hitch with shoulder and it fell and contacted her arm/shoulder/wrist as it fell." Haas testified that he and another associate checked the display hitches and later reported that nothing was out of place.

         [¶4.] After leaving Cabela's, the Steilens went to the emergency room in Mitchell to have Annette's wrist examined. She was treated and released. She subsequently sought care by her primary care provider. She continued to receive medical treatments and procedures following her injury at Cabela's. She was not able to return to work for nearly four years.

         [¶5.] Annette brought suit against Cabela's, alleging negligence. The case proceeded to a jury trial on July 25, 2016. During the settling of jury instructions, Annette requested two pattern jury instructions on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. She argued that the instructions were appropriate because the only evidence of negligence was the fact that the hitch-under Cabela's control-fell. The circuit court refused the instructions, concluding that they were not warranted by the evidence presented at trial. It remarked, "I think this is an instruction that's intended to be given in limited circumstances, in extreme cases, where it is clearly obvious that but for negligence, this doesn't happen, such as being electrocuted in a pool." The jury returned a verdict in favor of Cabela's.

         [¶6.] Annette appeals, asserting that the circuit court committed reversible error when it did not instruct the jury on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

          Analysis

         [¶7.] Annette argues that she was prejudiced by the court's refusal to instruct the jury on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. She claims that her requested instructions correctly stated the law and were supported by competent evidence. She further asserts that by ...


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