Man falls out of deer stand. Breaks both legs. Sues his father in a case that goes all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
And now they may wind up trying the case all over again.
In a ruling that clarified the state’s law on public access for hunting, the Supreme Court this week held that Corey Ouradnik can sue his father, Robert Ouradnik, for more than $150,000 in medical bills incurred after he fell 16 feet from a deer stand after a board nailed to a tree came loose in his hand.
You might expect a three-year court battle to generate ill will in the family. But father and son get along just great.
“He is my dad. I love him,” Corey Ouradnik of Lindstrom, Minn., testified at the trial in Pine County District Court.
Then why fight dad all the way to the state’s highest court?
“Insurance,” said Matt Barber, a Minneapolis attorney who represented the son.
“Minnesota requires people who are injured to sue the person who injured them,” if they hope to recover a payment, Barber said. “In other states, like Wisconsin, you can just sue the insurance company.
“As the plaintiffs, we wish we had the ability to just sue the insurance company. It looks bad [to a jury] to have a son sue his dad.”
Lawyers also aren’t allowed to mention insurance to the jury at trial, Barber added.
The case stemmed from an incident in 2012 on the family’s 40-acre hunting grounds near Hinckley, Minn. Corey Ouradnik, then 29, was climbing to a deer stand on boards nailed to a tree. When the top board came loose, he fell straight down, landing feet first.
The impact broke his legs. His recovery took several years and involved multiple surgeries as he ran up a six-figure medical bill.
He sued his father, hoping that liability insurance would cover his bills, Barber said. It was a decision that the dad agreed with.
In fact, Barber added, it was Robert Ouradnik who reached out to the law firm on his son’s behalf, asking to be sued.
The case hinged on the interpretation of a Minnesota law allowing public access to private lands for hunting and other recreation. Under state law, if private landowners give permission for the public to use their land, they’re virtually immune from being sued for any mishaps that occur.
However, Corey Ouradnik’s attorneys argued that in this case, his father could be sued, because he only allowed immediate family members to hunt on his land. There was no public access, hence no immunity from lawsuits under the public access law.
Corey Ouradnik initially lost his case in Pine County District Court, then won an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals last year. This week, the state Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court ruling.
Even though he prevailed, Corey Ouradnik probably won’t be cashing a big insurance check any time soon. The likely outcome, Barber said, is that the case will start over again with a new trial.