COA: No duty owed to couple struck by drunk driver in grocery store parking lot

A Sullivan County grocery store’s landlord had no duty to protect a couple from being struck by a drunk driver on its premises, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded in a Monday decision.

While leaving a grocery store and using a crosswalk, Paul and Susan Poppe were struck by an oncoming truck that pinned the couple against their own vehicle. Both individuals sustained injuries from the accident.

The truck’s driver, Davis Hughes, was determined to be under the influence of cocaine and alcohol at the time of the accident and later pleaded guilty to two counts of Level 6 felony causing serious bodily injury to another person while operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The Poppes subsequently filed a negligence complaint against Hughes, Baesler’s Market, Inc., Angell Enterprises, Inc., and USAA. Angell is Baesler’s landlord and is responsible for maintaining the parking lot, while USAA is the Poppes’ underinsured motorist carrier. However, the Sullivan Superior Court dismissed Hughes and USAA as parties and granted Baesler’s motion for summary judgment.

Angell also moved for summary judgment, which the trial court likewise granted, prompting the Poppes to appeal.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Paul Poppe and Susan Poppe v. Angell Enterprises, Inc., 20A-CT-2211, finding Angell had no duty to protect the Poppes from being struck by an intoxicated driver.

“While (Fawley v. Martin’s Supermarkets, Inc., 618 N.E.2d 10 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993)) predates (Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384, 386 (Ind. 2016)) by more than two decades, the duty foreseeability analysis is largely the same in both cases, and we apply it here. Angell could not have known or reasonably foreseen that the Poppes would be struck by an intoxicated driver in the Baesler’s parking lot. To conclude otherwise would be ‘to impose a blanket duty on proprietors to afford protection to their patrons’ and, thus, require proprietors to be ‘insurers of their patrons’ safety,’ contrary to the public policy of this state,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the appellate court.

Upon finding that it was not a condition on the premises that caused the Poppes to be injured but a random criminal act that Angell could not have prevented, the appellate court concluded that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment to Angell.

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