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Woman did not breach duty to man injured while on property uninvited

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Summary judgment was properly awarded to the owner of lake-front residential property in a man’s lawsuit filed after he was seriously injured in a hammock accident while on her property uninvited, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Thursday.

In Jeremy D. Mohr v. Virginia B. Smith Revocable Trust and Virginia B. Smith, as Trustee of the Virginia B. Smith Revocable Trust, 43A03-1306-CT-214, Grace College students Jeremy Mohr and Mallori Kastner entered property owned by the Virginia B. Smith Revocable Trust and controlled by Smith two nights in a row to sit on a hammock that was strung between two trees. The two went on Smith’s property without her knowledge or permission. Smith testified she knew the general public would occasionally come onto her property to look at the lake, sit on her pier or sit in the hammock, but she did not expressly invite anyone to do so and did not post “No Trespassing” signs.

On the second night Mohr and Kastner were on Smith’s property in the hammock, one of the trees supporting it fell, killing Kastner and seriously injuring Mohr. He sued, claiming he could recover from Smith under a theory of premises liability. The trial court ruled in favor of Smith, which the appellate judges upheld.

“The trial court properly determined that, at the time of the incident, Mohr was, at most, a licensee on Smith’s property,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote. “[W]e conclude that the designated evidence most favorable to Mohr demonstrates that Smith’s act of placing a hammock and a bench on her property overlooking the lake was insufficient to constitute an invitation for the public to enter Smith’s property. Although Smith was aware that members of the public would occasionally enter her property to view or access the lake, Smith did not invite the public to enter her land. Nothing in the record suggests that Smith desired, induced, encouraged, or expected the public to enter her property. She merely permitted the public to occasionally enter her land, so long as they did not cause any trouble. Again, mere permission, as distinguished from an invitation, is insufficient to transform a licensee into an invitee.”

The judges concluded that Mohr failed to designate any evidence that Smith had knowledge of the allegedly latent danger posed by the tree.

“Because undisputed evidence leads only to the inference that Smith did not have knowledge of the allegedly latent danger posed by the tree to which the hammock was attached, the trial court properly determined, as a matter of law, that Smith did not breach any duty owed to Mohr,” Bradford wrote.

 

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