Premises Liability and the Duty Owed to Invitees
In Indiana a landowner owes different kinds of duties to visitors depending on whether they are invitees, licensees, or trespassers. In premises liability cases, the court decides the duty owed by a landowner in part by considering whether the landowner was in control of the premises when the accident occurred. The idea behind this is to hold liable the one who could have known of any dangers on the land and therefore could have acted to prevent any foreseeable harm. In the case of Huffman v. Dexter Axle Co. (May 31, 2013), a truck driver from an independent company was picking up a flatbed trailer loaded with axles from an axle company. The axle company was not open for business at the time and no one else was present at the facility, but it was common practice for truck drivers to still have access to pick up loaded trailers. The axle company had stacked the axles in several layers, but had not strapped or secured the bundles to the trailer. The truck driver died after being struck by some unsecured axles which had fallen out of the trailer and were lying on the ground next to him and the trailer. The trucker driver’s personal representative sued the axle company for negligence and claimed that the truck driver was a business invitee, and therefore the axle company owed a duty to exercise reasonable care for the driver’s protection while at its facility. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed and found that the truck driver was a business visitor invited to enter the land for a purpose directly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land, and thus he was an invitee. The court determined that the axle company, as landowner, owed a duty to exercise reasonable care for the truck driver’s protection while he was on its property. It did not matter that the axle company was not open for business at the time of the accident because it was solely in control of the property and left its property open knowing that the truck driver would enter and obtain the load. Further, the court emphasized that in Indiana premises liability may arise from activities on the land, not just from natural conditions. In this case, the activity on the land that caused the accident was the manner in which the axles were loaded on the trailer.
Premises liability cases are rarely clear-cut, and it is not always easy to determine whether someone is an invitee and what duty he or she is owed by a landowner. Never hesitate to contact an attorney if you think you have a possible premise liability claim for detailed advice on your particular situation.