Articles Posted in Premises Liability

All business owners owe their customers a duty of care to keep areas accessible to customers in a reasonably safe condition. This generally means eliminating any known hazards, conducting frequent inspections to discover hazards, and warning customers of hazards that are either in the process of being fixed or cannot be fixed. If a business owner fails to live up to this duty, and a customer is injured as a result, the business may be liable for the customer’s injuries through an Indiana premises liability

In a recent case, a court considered a lawsuit that was filed against a grocery store by a customer who slipped and fell while shopping. The court had to consider whether the store could be held liable even though the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s fall was the fault of an independent contractor that was employed by a company that the grocery store had paid to keep the store clean.

Ultimately, the court concluded that the grocery store had a non-delegable duty to keep the store safe and free of hazards. Thus, although there was no evidence suggesting that the store was responsible for the hazard, it could still be held liable based on its non-delegable duty.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a case presenting an interesting issue for many Indiana personal injury accident victims. The case involved an Indiana premises liability lawsuit, and required the court determine whether a group of wires on a hospital room floor were an obvious hazard or, in the alternative, if the plaintiff knew of their presence. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff did not have actual knowledge of the cords, and also that the cords were not an “obvious” hazard.

Hospital RoomThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when she tripped on a cluster of wires that ran across the floor in the hospital room where her husband was staying after he was admitted to the hospital. The plaintiff first claimed that her fall was due to a “mess of wires” on the floor, and later stated that the fall was caused by a single telephone wire. The plaintiff later explained that she did not see any wires on the floor prior to her fall. However, she did acknowledge seeing a telephone in the room. The telephone wire ran from the wall to the telephone, which was on the plaintiff’s husband’s bedside table.

The case is unique in that it actually involves a legal malpractice claim made against a law firm that failed to timely file a complaint on behalf of the plaintiff. In order to succeed in her claim against the law firm, the plaintiff had to establish that her underlying claim against the hospital would have succeeded. The lower court granted the defendant law firm’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff would not have been able to succeed in her claim because she knew of the hazard that caused her fall and that the hazard was obvious.

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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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