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Performer Mayyadda singing at the University of Minnesota Juneteenth Celebration “We Are The Noise: The Echoes of Our Ancestors” captured on Saturday, June 15.
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Published June 23, 2024

Germain Vigeant: gone but not forgotten

Suppose that, in Minnesota, the law might change and evolve to include the “Vigeant Rule”?

There is an amazing article in October’s issue of Mpls.St. Paul magazine all about Germain Vigeant, a fun-loving and big-hearted University student who fell to her death from the Bunge grain elevator last January.

For those who were caught up in her tragic story, the article answers lingering questions about how and why the accident happened, revealing details with both sensitivity and candor. It feels odd to notice the lyrical, literary quality of the writing, to savor phrases like “blighted relic of the agricultural industry” and read how trespassers would send “empty bottles of Rolling Rock crashing from its heights.” It feels odd because you read the beautiful words, but then remember the common, ugly reality of the moment you first heard about how Vigeant died.

“The short life and sudden death of Germain Vigeant”
Mpls. St. Paul Magazine—Oct 2006

“Blow up Bunge grain elevator”
MN Daily—Mar. 23, 2006

The article is long, but not too long, rather like its title, “The short life and sudden death of Germain Vigeant.”

Contemplating its length as one might look at a tower, thinking of the view at the top, I expected the article would answer all my questions.

Instead, filled with the details of the article, I am still questioning. My main question concerns why a dangerous old relic like the Bunge should not be considered, legally, an “attractive nuisance,” even if Vigeant was an adult, not a child, when she went exploring there and died.

The article says Germain’s father has “thought about filing a negligence lawsuit against Bunge,” but figures he wouldn’t win. I would tend to agree with Buzz Vigeant’s calculation of his odds of success, but I think the suit might be worth filing anyway, and pursuing to the state Supreme Court on appeal.

As a former law student, I understand the doctrine of “attractive nuisance,” but would like to see the doctrine extended.

To explain in plain English: everybody knows a crummy, decrepit building is attractive to little children, who might want to explore it. And then who will be to blame if children are hurt? It won’t be the little children, but the owner of the property, who should have foreseen the tragedy.

But when a college student trespasses, beyond a doubt an adult responsible for her own actions, and she dies from the predictable accident of falling from a great height, then blame appears to rest squarely on the shoulders of the deceased student.

Or does it? Couldn’t there be another kind of “attractive nuisance,” an attraction which is so strong it not only draws children, but can even take away the common sense of responsible adults? There are such things in the world, empty and dangerous buildings which are so spectacular in their ruined state and so vulnerable to trespass that, clearly, they will be explored by “urban spelunkers.”

Vigeant used to decorate the walls of her room with graffiti and, as Vigeant’s mother put it so well, “When I saw the grain elevator, it was like it had her name on it.”

A strong argument is made and supported by friends of Vigeant that the same exact accident would have happened if Vigeant were stone-cold sober. But I ultimately reject this argument as an elaborate rationalization. All the same, read the article for yourself and see where you end up in the debate about alcohol and accidents.

It is important to note, however, Vigeant drank no more and perhaps even less than an average college student, and she was not an alcoholic or habitually loaded. Fate or destiny, which are mysterious forces, could have played a role. The grain elevator may have “had her name on it.”

But what if something really did have Vigeant’s name on it, something besides an old grain elevator where, reportedly, her name was sprayed in red letters at the bottom of one of the grain silos? Her name didn’t stay there long before the silos were whitewashed. But suppose that, in Minnesota, the law might change and evolve to include the “Vigeant Rule,” which would state sometimes an “attractive nuisance” exerts such a powerful and magnetic draw, it can even overwhelm the good sense of some adults, and make the owner liable for death or injury to those adults.

The ultimate example of a “Vigeant situation” would be an abandoned grain elevator of massive proportions, full of weird twisted pipes, standing alone like a sentinel, full of graffiti, and right in the heart of a large campus neighborhood. Such a set of circumstances is trouble waiting to happen. Plainly, obviously, it is common sense that owners of such structures should have some degree of liability. It can happen by statute passed in the Legislature, or by case law in the courts, but it should certainly happen.

This is my response upon reading the article, but it’s a response somewhat unique to somebody who has been a law student in the past, studying the nitty-gritty of case law and statutes. I’d urge you to read the article for yourself, and experience your own personal response to the life and death of this amazing young woman who dreamed of making the world a better place.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected].

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