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Summary judgment inappropriate in slip-and-fall case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals stopped short Wednesday of saying in a negligence suit involving a slip and fall that under any circumstance a home detention officer visiting a detainee at his place of employment is a business visitor.

In Isaiah Christmas v. Kindred Nursing Centers Limited Partnership d/b/a Windsor Estates Health and Rehabilitation Center, No. 34A05-1101-CT-1, home detention officer Isaiah Christmas sued Windsor Estates Health and Rehabilitation Center after he slipped on ice on the sidewalk in front of the employee entrance. Christmas was there to visit a detainee who was on house arrest but worked at Windsor. Christmas had previously been given the code to enter through the employee entrance. He was not required to visit the detainee at her place of employment to check on her, but can do so if employers don’t object.

After his fall, Christmas sued Windsor claiming injuries and negligent maintenance of the sidewalk. A hearing was set on Windsor’s motion for summary judgment, but the trial court cancelled the hearing the day before it was scheduled and notified it would rule on the parties’ briefs and designated evidence. The trial court ruled in Windsor’s favor, finding that Christmas was not an invitee, so Windsor didn’t owe him any duty.

Christmas later filed motions to correct error and for a hearing, which was denied. On appeal, he argued the trial court erred on procedural grounds when it entered summary judgment without a hearing. But Indiana Trial Rule 56(C) says that a court may conduct a hearing on a summary judgment motion, but doesn’t have to unless one of the parties requests a hearing. Christmas never requested the hearing nor did he take any action after learning the trial court intended to rule on the filings, wrote Judge Carr Darden.

Turning to the issue of summary judgment in favor of Windsor, the judges found there to be a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Christmas was invited to enter Windsor’s premises. Christmas maintained he was a business visitor at the time of his fall, citing Section 332 and comment (e) of the Restatement (Second) of Torts.

The fact that a detention officer is permitted on the premises doesn’t make him an invitee, wrote the judge. But, someone provided a special access code to Christmas and Windsor didn’t designate any evidence to show that such a provision was unapproved. A trier of fact could infer that Christmas was invited to enter Windsor’s premises.

There is also a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Windsor breached its duty of care regarding the condition of the sidewalk and protecting Christmas against danger. The appellate court remanded for further proceedings.

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