October 5, 2017

Attack In Fairground Parking Lot Not Foreseeable; Jones v. Wilson

Category: Indiana Law Review | Author: | Share:

Last year, the Indiana Supreme Court “redrew the premises liability landscape” in two cases, Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.3d 316 (Ind. 2016), and Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384 (Ind. 2016). These cases focused the question of whether a duty exists on the foreseeability of the harm. This case puts that test into practice.

Wilson was the promoter for a wrestling event at the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds. He rented the Family Arts building for an evening to put on the event.

Jones attended the wrestling event. At about 11:00 pm, she left the building to get some medication from her car. While in the parking lot, she was attacked and injured by an unknown person.

Jones sued both Wilson and Bartholomew County 4-H Fair, Inc., alleging negligence. She claimed that it was dark outside the Family Arts building, that there was no security, and that the parking lot light was not working. Wilson moved for summary judgment, arguing that he had no duty to protect Jones from an unforeseen attack in the parking lot. The trial court granted Wilson’s motion, and Jones appealed.

On appeal, Jones recognized that Rogers and Goodwin based the test for whether a duty exists on whether “the general class of persons of which the plaintiff was a member and whether the harm suffered was of a kind normally to be expected.” But she argued that this test should not apply to her because her claim relates to a condition of the land, i.e., whether the parking lot was well-lit. The Court disagreed.

In response, Wilson urges that the parking lot lights are not “a condition of the land,” pointing out that an assailant injured her, not the parking lot lights, and that she was not injured when she stepped in a hole or otherwise injured because of some condition of the land, and, therefore, this case is not a “condition of the land” case where duty has already been declared or articulated. We agree with Wilson in this regard. Jones’s injuries resulted from the conduct of a third person, and we find that the foreseeability test outlined in Goodwin and Rogers must be applied to see if a duty exists at all.

Applying the test from those cases to this, the court found that it was not foreseeable that someone would be attacked in a fairground parking lot.

The Court did not explain why it found that this was not foreseeable. And though it acknowledged that this analysis should be conducted “without consideration of the actual facts,” it probably did not hurt Wilson that the evidence showed a lack of similar attacks at the fairgrounds in the 20 years preceding the attack on Jones.

Lessons:

  1. It is not necessary to engage in a foreseeability analysis if an injury arises from a condition of the land.
  2. Injuries from an unknown assailant’s attack are not caused by a condition of the land.