Split COA orders trial for woman injured measuring countertop

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A divided Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday concluded summary judgment was not proper for a home improvement business on a woman’s negligence claim. The customer was injured when a granite countertop propped up outside of the business fell on her foot while she was measuring it.

Sharon Handy sued P.C. Building Materials Inc. and other related parties claiming negligence following her injury. Handy went to the store on a Saturday to look for items for a home remodeling project. A salesperson directed her to look outside at granite countertops leaning against a wall of the store. She took rough measurements and came back the next day when the store was closed to take more detailed measurements. When she shifted one countertop in order to measure the one behind it, both ended up falling on her foot, injuring her toe.

The trial court ruled in favor of the defendants, finding the plaintiff to be a trespasser when she entered the property the day she was injured. The court also held there were no genuine issues of material fact indicating the countertops were a latent danger.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that it was limited to only evidence properly before the court, which did not include evidence designated by Handy because she untimely filed her response and designation of evidence.

“Handy asserts that summary judgment was inappropriate because genuine issues of material fact remain regarding her status on the premises and PC’s corresponding duty of care. We agree,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the majority, which included Judge Paul Mathias. “As a general rule, a person’s status on the land, along with the duty owed by the landowner, is a matter left to the determination of the trial court and not the jury. However, a person’s status on the land may turn on factual issues that must be resolved by the trier of fact, thereby precluding disposition by summary judgment. Such is the case here.”

“It is undisputed that Handy entered onto the property to view the countertops for potential purchase, the exact purpose for which they were displayed, and not simply for her own convenience and curiosity. On its face, PC’s conduct justified others in believing that PC was willing to have them enter the premises if they desired to do so. Thus, at a minimum,
Handy was a licensee with the privilege to enter the premises by virtue of PC’s permission or sufferance. The question becomes whether that privilege was also extended by invitation.”

The majority remanded Sharon Handy v. P.C, Building Materials, Inc., PC Properties, LLC, David A. Stemler, and Karen L. Stemler, 22A01-1403-CT-125, for further proceedings as genuine issues of material fact remain as to whether P.C. breached its duty of care to her.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented in part, writing based on the designated evidence before the court, she would affirm the trial court in every respect.

“[M]y analysis of the designated evidence is in line with the trial court’s conclusion that Handy is a ‘trespasser,’ or at best, a licensee,” she wrote.

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