Revisiting a 1971 landmark in tort law, the Iowa spring gun case [Randy Maniloff, Coverage Opinions]
Mrs. Garrison’s suit, in Anderson County, S.C., says she was in a Target store parking lot “when her daughter picked up a hypodermic needle. Garrison swatted it out of her hand and was stuck in her own palm. Garrison was bedridden because of medication prescribed because of the potential risk of HIV.” A jury awarded $4.6 million. [Insurance Journal]
“The family of a 13-year-old boy fatally shot by a friend in a wooded area of Joint Base Lewis-McChord has sued the federal government, alleging a hole in the fence around the base contributed to his death.” [Tacoma News-Tribune]
Once again some advocates are advancing what they see as gun rights at the expense of the general rights of private property and contract. This time it’s a new state law that “allows any Tennessean with a valid gun permit to sue a property owner in the event of injury or death provided the incident occurred while in a gun-free zone.” More specifically, the “legislation places responsibility on the business or property owner of the gun-free area to protect the gun owner from any incidents that occur with any ‘invitees,’ trespassers and employees found on the property, as well as vicious and wild animals and ‘defensible man-made and natural hazards.'” The bill excludes situations where the law itself imposes the status of “gun-free zone,” but includes situations in which a Tennessee business adopts the status in order to follow the policy of its corporate owner or franchisor.
Traditional Anglo-American law grants to a property owner as a matter of course not only the right to exclude guns, but also to ask of customers and other invitees that, as a condition of their visit, they agree to assume the risk of some “defensible hazards” contemplated by the law, such as harm occasioned by roaming wild animals. Is it too much to ask that gun advocates promote the actual rights prescribed by the Second Amendment against government infringement — which certainly could use promotion right now — rather than infringe traditional individual property and contract liberties by inventing spurious new gun “rights”? [Tennessean via Bearing Arms] Earlier on laws restricting property owners’ rights to set rules against guns in parking lots here, here, here, here, related Roger Pilon at Cato, and, also with coverage of “off-duty conduct” as a protected class in discrimination law, here.
For some time trial lawyers have been promoting the theory that when runaway cars smash into convenience stores and other retail locations, it is the stores’ fault for not installing protective bollards. This theory has now taken a big leap forward in a case in which a Western Massachusetts jury has told Cumberland Farms to pay $32 million over a crash in which a motorist who’d had a stroke careened off a road and into a Chicopee store. [Springfield Republican; more at Fair Warning, which as is its wont takes the plaintiff’s-bar side]
Deborah La Fetra at Pacific Legal on a case that arose against a shopping mall after a runaway car smashed through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall into a medical clinic:
[On May 8,] the New Mexico Supreme Court decided in Rodriguez v. Del Sol Shopping Center that when a court decides whether a property owner has a duty to protect people from harm on the premises, the court must never consider whether the harm was foreseeable. PLF has long argued in premises liability cases that foreseeability cannot be dispositive, because the court must also consider the public policy considerations of imposing a duty to protect. The court’s holding that foreseeability must never be even a factor, however, sets it apart from every other court in the nation, to the detriment of New Mexican property owners and businesses….
This approach means that, as a practical matter, New Mexico courts can never dismiss a case on the grounds that the defendant owed no duty to the plaintiff. …This is a shocking departure from standard tort doctrine that squarely places upon courts the responsibility to determine the nature and extent of tort duties. All property owners and businesses in the state should be on notice that any accident, no matter how bizarre or unlikely, that occurs on their premises will almost certainly go to a jury – or settle.
Whole post here.
Seeking help with an auto accident claim, Robert Friedrich was in a meeting with an attorney at a personal injury law firm in 2003 when a chair collapsed under him. He won a $2.2 million jury verdict against the law firm of Fetterman & Associates and a retailer that sold the chair, but an appeals court directed a verdict against him, finding a lack of needed causation. Now the Florida Supreme Court has reinstated the verdict [Legal Profession Prof, ABA Journal, earlier]
Perhaps the most remarkable passage in the ABA Journal’s coverage:
An expert for Friedrich said an inspection should have revealed the “weak joint” in the chair blamed for the collapse and said it should be standard procedure for businesses to test chairs every six months, the court recounts. An expert for the law firm said the only test for defects in chairs is to sit in them, and no other test would have revealed the defect that caused the Friedrich accident. …
A dissenting judge would have upheld the directed verdict against Friedrich. Even if the jury agreed that businesses should inspect chairs every six months, the dissenting judge said, there was insufficient evidence to prove that an inspection would have revealed the defect in the chair at issue.
Commenter DKJA at the ABA Journal writes:
So every business in Florida now has to “inspect” every piece of furniture every six months in perpetuity?
Maybe we should just replace all furniture with beanbag chairs. Although I’m sure someone would figure out how to injure themselves on one of them as well.
Kent and Surrey, England: “Police have told residents to stop putting wire mesh on their garden shed windows – because they could be sued if a burglar is injured.” [Telegraph]