COA reverses summary judgment for aviation company

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed summary judgment for a Porter County aviation company after finding issues of fact exist as to whether the company breached its duty of care to a woman injured on its property.

While attending an open house hosted by JS Aviation Inc. in April 2014, Carol Walters entered a pilot’s lounge that was connected to a hangar by a set of double doors, which were usually lined with chairs and signs warning people to watch their step. However, Walters had arrived at the open house early, so the chairs were not yet in place and she failed to notice a step down into the hangar from the lounge.

Walters missed the step and fell down the 5 ¼ inch drop. There were red warning signs posted throughout the lounge and hangar, though one of those signs was obscured by the open doors. There were also black nonslip mats lying on either side of the threshold, which Walters believed to be one carpet.

Walters sued in October 2014, alleging premises liability and seeking damages for injuries sustained during the fall. In response, JS Aviation moved for summary judgment, which the Porter Superior Court granted. Walters then appealed in Carol Walters v. JS Aviation, Inc. d/b/a Eagle Aircraft, 64A03-1702-CT-421, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed on Thursday.

In the court’s reversal, Judge Robert Altice wrote that under the specific facts of the case – including the fact that JS Aviation believed the step to be enough of a hazard to warrant multiple warning signs, the presence of the nonslip mats and the fact that the light was different between the lounge and hangar – there is an issue of fact as to whether the step presented an unreasonable risk of harm to invitees such as Walters. Further, Altice said there is a question of fact as to whether JS Aviation should have anticipated that an invitee would not see the step.

The appellate court also found there are triable issues of fact as to whether JS Aviation breached its duty of reasonable care and was a contributable cause of Walters’ injuries. Altice pointed to the fact that one of the warning signs was obscured by the open doors and the fact that the chairs with additional warning signs were not yet out.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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