August 25, 2017

Rare Summary Judgment in a Negligence Case

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In a recent case, an individual sought entry to a place of business. After falling on snow and breaking his pelvis, he then sought to sue the business. 

The facts are straightforward. A man parked in a parking garage adjacent to the business. Rather than taking a snow-cleared route to a less convenient entrance, the individual ducked under a barricade to access a portion of the parking garage that was undisputedly closed to vehicular traffic because it was  covered in snow. When he reached his preferred door, and found it locked, he attempted to go back to the car, again ducking under a barricade and yellow caution tape. At this point, he fell and broke his pelvis.

Rarely does an Indiana state court grant summary judgment on a ”negligence” case. To prevail on a claim of negligence, a person must prove: (1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty by the defendant; and  (3) an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the breach. Courts uniformly recite that summary judgment in negligence cases is rarely appropriate.

In this case, the Indiana Court of Appeals stated that the man lost his status as business invitee when he crossed the barricade and yellow caution tape to access an area of the business which was clearly closed.  No longer considered a business invitee, to whom the highest duty of care is owed, he became a “licensee.”  As a licensee, the business owed the two individuals only a duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring them or acting in a manner to increase their peril. 

The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the business, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.