Articles Posted in Premises Liability

In many Indiana personal injury cases, one or more parties files a motion for summary judgment before the witnesses are sworn and the actual trial begins. By filing a motion for summary judgment, a party is asking the trial judge to make a determination that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In other words, the filing party is claiming that when the judge considers all of the uncontested evidence, the non-moving party could not prevail under the applicable law.

Wet FloorImportantly, when there is conflicting evidence regarding a material issue in the case, summary judgment is not appropriate, and the case will be permitted to proceed toward a jury trial. A recent case illustrates how courts view defense summary judgment motions, and the type of evidence necessary to survive such a motion.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and her husband were shopping when at the defendant grocery store. At some point during their shopping trip, the plaintiff left her husband to use the restroom. On her way back to find her husband, the plaintiff slipped on a “brownish, oily substance.” As a result of the fall, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries and later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store.

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In Indiana personal injury cases, before a case reaches trial, it will likely go through the summary judgment stage. Summary judgment is a process in which either party can ask the court to rule in their favor before witnesses are sworn or evidence is considered. Essentially, the court reviews the pleadings, accepting all uncontested facts as true, and then makes a determination if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Produce AisleIn order to survive a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must be able to show that there is some material fact that needs to be resolved by the jury. A recent case illustrates how a court’s job in determining whether summary judgment is appropriate can be a difficult one.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was grocery shopping with her husband at the defendant’s store. The plaintiff put a bottle of Sunny Delight into their cart, and the couple continued shopping. Shortly afterward, the plaintiff left to find a restroom. Her husband continued to shop. It wasn’t until later that he noticed that the Sunny Delight bottle had been leaking.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case involving a man who was seriously injured while skiing off-trail at a world-renowned ski resort. The case required the court to determine if the ski resort owed the plaintiff a duty of care to prevent this type of accident. Finding that the plaintiff assumed the risks involved in this type of activity, the court concluded that the resort owed him no duty. As a result, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

Ski ResortThis case is important to Indiana personal injury plaintiffs because it discusses the assumption-of-the-risk doctrine and illustrates how courts apply the doctrine in practice.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, a ski instructor from California, was visiting Jackson Hole, Wyoming with friends on a ski trip. During their stay, the resort got about a foot of new snow. While much of the resort was machine-groomed, the plaintiff and his friends sought the resort’s ungroomed terrain.

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Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a written opinion in an Indiana slip-and-fall case involving a woman’s fall at a pharmacy chain. The case required the court to determine if a lower court was proper in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Finding that the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant had knowledge of the hazard that caused her fall, the court affirmed judgment in the defendant’s favor.

Spilled LiquidThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was visiting a Walgreen’s pharmacy when she slipped and fell on what she believed to be a puddle of water. However, witness accounts differed regarding whether there was water on the floor after the plaintiff’s fall. Several store employees claimed that no water was present. However, the plaintiff and her friend testified that there was a puddle of water present. The plaintiff also told responding paramedics that she had slipped on a puddle of water.

At trial, the court determined that the plaintiff’s statement to paramedics was inadmissible hearsay, precluding it from consideration. Thus, the court then held that the plaintiff failed to make out her case against the defendant. The plaintiff appealed.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury lawsuit illustrating an issue that may have an impact on some Indiana premises liability cases involving children who have been injured while in the company of their parents. The case presented the court with an opportunity to discuss how a parent’s presence can act to reduce the duty a business owner has to protect minor children who accompany their parents.

Cuppa JoeThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a young boy who was seriously injured while he was playing on the metal poles used to create the line at a nationwide coffee chain. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the boy was with his family, which included both his parents and his brother. After the family ordered their food and drinks, they used the restroom and then began to leave the store.

On the way out of the store, the parents were in the lead with the children in tow. However, as the parents were about to leave the store, they heard their son screaming. They turned around to find that one of the metal poles used to connect a series of chains that were used to create a line leading up to the register had fallen on their son.

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As a general rule, landowners have a duty to ensure that their property is safe for those whom they invite onto their land. An invitation may be an explicit one, such as an invitation to join a neighbor for dinner, or it may be implicit given the circumstances, such as a customer who visits a business. In either case, a duty arises on the part of the property owner.

WarehouseThe extent of the duty owed to a visitor depends largely on the relationship between the two parties and the purpose of the visit. For example, a business invitee, i.e., a customer, is owed the highest duty. When a landowner fails to take the necessary precautions to ensure their property is safe, they may be held liable through an Indiana premises liability lawsuit.

Of course, not all injuries occurring on another party’s property will result in the landowner being liable for the injuries. As a recent case illustrates, if a court determines that the hazard causing the plaintiff’s fall was “open and obvious,” the landowner does not owe the visitor a duty to warn them of the hazard.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that clearly illustrates an issue that frequently arises in Indiana premises liability cases. The case involved a handyman who was seriously injured while moving a piece of glass while working at the defendant’s home. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff, who admitted to being aware of the risks involved with moving a sheet of glass, should be entitled to recover compensation for his injuries.

Broken GlassThe Facts of the Case

The defendant, a wheelchair-bound homeowner, hired the plaintiff to put in a bathroom in the defendant’s basement. Part of the job required the plaintiff to remove a large mirror that was glued to the basement’s wooden frame.

The plaintiff and the defendant decided that they would use a crowbar to remove the three wooden boards from the back of the glass. The first board was removed without incident. However, when the plaintiff removed the second board, the glass broke, leaving a sharp shard attached to the board. The plaintiff carried the board up to the front of the house and tossed it into a garbage can. However, somehow the glass that was attached to the wood sliced the plaintiff’s wrist, causing him serious and permanent injuries.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case requiring the court to interpret and apply the state’s recreational use statute. Ultimately, the court interpreted the statute as written to confer immunity to the defendant landowner, so the plaintiff’s case was dismissed. While the case was brought in a different state, it discusses concepts that may be relevant to Indiana premises liability claim.

Stadium SeatsRecreational Use Statutes

Under Indiana Code section 14-22-10-2-5, landowners who open up their land so that the general public can enjoy various recreational activities are not liable if someone engaging in a recreational activity is hurt while on the landowner’s property. However, the statute only confers immunity if the landowner does not require payment for the use of their land. Moreover, if the landowner’s conduct is malicious or constitutes an illegal act, immunity will not attach.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in the case mentioned above were the parents of a young girl who fell through the bleachers at a youth football game. In order to get into the game, the plaintiffs were required to pay the $2 admission fee; however, there was no fee for children under six years old. As a result of her fall, the plaintiffs’ daughter was seriously injured, and the plaintiffs filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city that owned and operated the stadium.

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All landowners, especially business owners, owe a duty of care to keep their property safe for those whom they invite onto their property. The extent of the duty owed to a visitor depends on the relationship between the landowner and the visitor, but as a general rule, the highest duty is owed to someone who visits for business purposes, i.e., a customer.

Gas PumpWhen a business owner fails to take adequate precautions to ensure safe premises, they may be liable for a visitor’s injuries through an Indiana premises liability lawsuit. However, a landowner’s duty is not absolute, and there are limitations. For example, in a recent case, an appellate court determined that a gas station was not required to continually clear ice that formed during a freezing rain storm and was able to wait until the storm subsided to begin clean-up efforts.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case was a shuttle driver for a retirement community. On a freezing, rainy day, the plaintiff pulled into the defendant gas station to fill the shuttle up with gas. However, as the plaintiff stepped out of the shuttle, he slipped on ice that had formed during the storm.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case requiring the court to determine if a plaintiff’s case against a ski resort could proceed toward trial despite the fact that she had signed an accident-release waiver prior to her injury. After reviewing the applicable law, the court concluded that the release waiver was enforceable and that the plaintiff’s lawsuit was barred as a matter of law. The case presents important issues for Indiana personal injury plaintiffs, since accident-release waivers are commonly used as a defense in certain Indiana negligence cases.

Steep SkiingThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff arranged to take a ski lesson at the defendant resort. Prior to getting out on the mountain, the plaintiff was presented with an accident-release waiver and asked to sign it. The waiver essentially stated that the plaintiff understood and appreciated the risks involved in skiing, that she accepted the risks, and that she agreed not to hold the resort liable in the event she was injured.

The plaintiff was later issued a lift ticket, which contained similar language on the reverse side of the ticket. The plaintiff proceeded with her lesson.

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