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COA reverses judgment for apartment manager in negligence case

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In ruling on a slip-and-fall case involving injury occurring in an apartment complex parking lot during the winter, the Indiana Court of Appeals noted that there are not any Indiana cases with an identical fact pattern, so they looked to a similar Missouri case for guidance.

In Brenda Bell v. Grandville Cooperative, Inc., et al., No. 49A04-1101-CT-2, Brenda Bell appealed the summary judgment in favor of Grandville Cooperative and Kirkpatrick Management Co. in her personal injury negligence action against Grandville. Bell went to her daughter’s apartment complex around 4 p.m. Feb. 21, 2007, to babysit her grandchild. The apartment was owned and managed by Grandville. Piles of snow had been melting during the day and refreezing at night for several days, including the area where Bell parked. The management knew of the issue and checked out areas for ice, but did not see any ice in the area Bell parked around 5 p.m.

That night, when Bell was leaving the complex, she fell on ice by her car and was injured.

The COA judges cited various cases involving negligence and weather-related injuries, but none of those cases contained similar facts as the instant case. In this case, there was an established pattern of ice forming in the apartment complex for several days, but the managers did nothing to counteract the possibility of ice forming between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Citing Braun v. George C. Doering Inc., 937 S.W.2d 371, 373 (Mo. Ct. App. 1995), a very similar case out of Missouri, the Indiana judges concluded that there is a question of fact as to whether Grandville breached its duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. In the Missouri case, the court held that defendants can’t avoid liability by simply claiming they had no actual knowledge that the particular piece of ice the plaintiff stepped on had formed that evening.

“In other words, there is a question of fact as to whether Grandville had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition on the premises — which does not require that they knew of the actual formation of the ice patch Bell slipped upon — and whether it acted reasonably in response to such knowledge,” wrote Judge Michael Barnes.

The judges were also not prepared to say as a matter of law that an apartment complex’s duty to maintain safe premises only runs during the regular working hours of the complex’s maintenance staff. They reversed summary judgment for Grandville and remanded for further proceedings.

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