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Question over who should have mown grass prevents summary judgment

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A trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to a homeowner after a man slipped and fell on her property was overturned when the Indiana Court of Appeals found sufficient dispute over material facts.

The Court of Appeals reversed the order for summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings in Ralph Stockton v. Falls Auctioneers and Realtors and Peggy Buck as Trustee of the Peggy Buck Trust, 18A05-1304-CT-160.
 
Peggy Buck had hired Falls Auctioneers to conduct an auction of her personal property. While Ralph Stockton was at the event inspecting a lawnmower, his feet became entangled in some chains causing him to fall and break his hip. Stockton claimed he could not see the chains lying on the ground because of the lawn had not been mowed.

The Delaware Circuit Court granted summary judgment to Buck.

However, the Court of Appeals found there are questions of fact as to whether Stockton’s fall was caused, in part, by the length of the grass and whether Buck controlled the condition of the property.

Buck maintained she was not in control of the property at the time of Stockton’s fall. She had hired Falls Auctioneers to do the auction, so Falls was in control of the property and therefore had the duty to Stockton in premises liability.

Stockton countered there is no evidence that Buck relinquished control over the condition and maintenance of the premises, including mowing the grass.

The COA found the contract contains no language that Buck surrendered control of her property or that Falls agreed to be responsible for the condition of the premises. Also, there is no evidence which suggested Buck was unable to have the grass mowed prior to auction.

Moreover, the Court of Appeals pointed out, the question has not been answered as to whether Stockton’s fall was caused, at least in part, by the length of the grass.

Judge Elaine Brown concluded, “There is sufficient factual dispute regarding control of the condition of the premises and in particular the length of the grass that a trier of fact should decide the question.”

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