Negligence and Strict Liability – Answers to Problem Cases
1. No. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that because the icy condition of the
defendant’s parking lot was open and obvious, the defendant’s failures to warn the
plaintiff about this condition and to remedy it did not amount to breaches of the
defendant’s failure to use reasonable care. Therefore, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the
district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Gaff v.
Johnson Oil Co., 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 18368 (6th Cir. 2002).
2. No. The question of what duty Mr. Property owed to R.M.V. is answered by the
ordinance. The unexcused violation of a statute or ordinance constitutes negligence
as a matter of law if the statute or ordinance was designed to prevent injury to the
class of persons to which the injured party belongs, and if that plaintiff suffered harm
of a sort against which the statute or ordinance was meant to guard. A reasonable
interpretation of this ordinance is that it was designed to deter criminal activity by
reducing the conspicuous opportunities for criminal conduct. An ordinance requiring
apartment owners to do their part in deterring crime is designed to prevent injury to
the general public. R.M.V. falls within this class and also suffered this kind of harm.
Nixon v. Mr. Property Management, 690 S.W.2d 546 (Tex. Sup. Ct. 1985).
3. No, Sears has not breached a duty under the reasonable person standard. This is a
landowner case and Hresil is an invitee. Therefore, the relevant duty is Sears's
obligation to protect invitees against dangerous conditions of which it was actually or
constructively aware. The court in Hresil v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 403 N.E.2d 678
(Ill. Ct. App. 1980) concluded that Hresil could only prove that the gob was on the
floor for ten minutes. This, it said, was insufficient for constructive notice. A
tougher standard, it suggested, would make it too difficult to avoid the risk to
customers. In effect, Sears would have had to run "phlegm patrols" down the store's
corridors every ten minutes.
4. Yes and no. Yes, in regard to the Quakertown's motion for summary judgment but
no as to the motions for summary judgment filed by Michael Traini and his parents.
Reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the latter defendants, the
Indiana Court of Appeals remanded the case for trial against them. In the view of the
appellate court, the lower court erred in holding as a matter of law that Michael did
not breach his duty of reasonable care because there were significant questions of fact
to be resolved and because, under the circumstances, harm to guests such as Legear
was seemingly foreseeable. The appellate court was receptive to the argument that
Michael and his parents could be liable to Legear’s estate for the harm more directly
caused by Marling’s criminal act, because Marling’s act was, in the court’s opinion,
foreseeable. (Marling, of course, could be held liable too, though he wasn’t a named
defendant here.) Michael's parents potentially could be liable under a negligent
entrustment theory: given their knowledge of Michael's history, they failed to use
reasonable care in entrusting the boat to him. The court saw no basis, however, on
which Quakertown could be seen as having breached any duty. Harris v. Traini, 759
N.E.2d 215 (Ind. App. 2001).
5. No. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's decision and
remanded the case for trial. The plaintiff produced sufficient evidence under which a
reasonable jury could have concluded that res ipsa loquitur would apply. The
evidence indicated that the spot freezer had been in the exclusive control of Wal-
Mart, that the harm experienced by Morris would not ordinarily occur in the absence
of negligence, and that Morris was not responsible for her injury. Morris v. Wal-
Mart Stores, Inc., 330 F.3d 854 (6th Cir. 2003).
6. No. The Indiana Court of Appeals reasoned that in order for the Hoppers to recover
damages for negligence, they would have to demonstrate that the motel had failed to
perform a duty to conform its conduct to the standard of care arising from the
relationship between the motel and the Hoppers. Because the Hoppers were business
invitees, the motel owed them a duty to use reasonable care to protect them from the
criminal acts of a third party. Here, for the motel to have been able to foresee the
discharge of Clary’s handgun, it would have had to be no less than a total insurer of
the Hoppers’ safety--something that the duty of reasonable care does not require.
Hopper v. Colonial Motel Properties, 762 N.E.2d 181 (Ind. App. 2002).
7. The defendant's argument was rejected by the Appeals Court of Massachusetts,
which upheld the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. The defendant breached its
duty of care by serving alcohol to minors and then by taking no action to head off
injury to Christopher even though the defendant's employee (Callinan) knew from
what he had heard and observed first-hand that harm to Christopher was likely to
occur. The defendant's breach of duty was at least a substantial factor in the causation
of the harm that Christopher experienced. Finally, the actions of the fight
participants did not amount to an intervening cause because those actions were
foreseeable under the circumstances. Christopher v. Father's Huddle Cafe, Inc., 782
N.E.2d 517 (Mass. App. 2003).
8. Yes. The court determined that given Jones’s early introduction to the hazing
practices and his long period of continuing to participate in the hazing activities, he
knew of the risks associated with such participation. Moreover, Jones voluntarily
exposed himself to those risks by continuing to participate. He could have refused to
participate in the hazing activities and could have left the fraternity, but he did not do
so. Therefore, the court concluded, he did not have a valid claim against the
defendants despite the otherwise wrongful nature of their actions. Jones v. Kappa
Alpha Order, Inc., 730 So.2d 203 (Ala. Sup. Ct. 1998).
9. Yes. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stated that the applicable
proximate cause test under Texas law (which controlled the case) was whether the
defendants “might by the exercise of ordinary care have foreseen that some similar
injury [similar to what occurred in the case] might result” from the defendants’
breach of duty. The court concluded that the explosion--as opposed to merely a fire--
was an unforeseeable consequence because even experts did not realize until this
catastrophe occurred that FGAN was capable of exploding. Hence, the court
reasoned, there was no proximate cause as to harms stemming from the explosion.
Republic of France v. United States, 290 F.2d 395 (5th Cir. 1961).
10. No. Acrylonitrile is one of a large number of hazardous chemicals shipped in highest
volume on the nation's railroads. Among the other materials that rank higher on the
hazard scale are phosphorous (number 1), anhydrous ammonia, liquified petroleum
gas, vinyl chloride, gasoline, crude petroleum, motor fuel antiknock compound,
methyl and ethyl chloride, sulfuric acid, and chloroform. The U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Seventh Circuit observed that the logic of the district court's opinion would
dictate strict liability for all 52 materials that rank higher than acrylonitrile on the list,
and quite possibly for the 72 that rank lower as well, since all are hazardous if spilled
in quantity while being shipped by rail. Every shipper of any of the materials would
therefore be strictly liable for the consequences of a spill or other accident that
occurred while the material was being shipped through a metropolitan area. The
Seventh Circuit stressed that no cases recognize so sweeping a liability. There was no
reason, the court stated, to believe that negligence principles would not be perfectly
adequate to remedy and deter, at reasonable cost, the accidental spillage of
acrylonitrile from rail cars. The railroad network is a hub-and-spoke system and the
hubs are in metropolitan areas. With most hazardous chemicals (by volume of
shipment) being at least as hazardous as acrylonitrile, it is unlikely that the shipment
thereof could be rerouted around all metropolitan areas in the country, except at
prohibitive cost. The court noted that ven if it were feasible to reroute the rail lines.
one would hardly expect shippers, as distinct from carriers, to be the firms best
situated to do the rerouting. Therefore, the court held, this was not an apt case for
strict liability. Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. v. American Cyanamid Co., 916
F.2d 1174 (7th Cir. 1990).
11. No, even though the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that Kreuser had failed to use
reasonable care. In Stephenson v. Universal Metrics, Inc., 641 N.W.2d 158 (Wis. 2002), the court
held that under the circumstances, Kreuser did assume a legal duty to drive the intoxicated person
(Devine) a ride home. The Supreme Court also held that Kreuser’s failure to drive Devine home,
after having agreed to do so, was a failure to use reasonable care. In these holdings regarding
duty and breach of duty, the Supreme Court upheld rulings by the trial court and the intermediate
court of appeals. Despite these holdings, however, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’
decision in favor of the plaintiff and ruled that Kreuser was not liable for negligence. The court
held that this result was dictated by a Wisconsin statute and by public policy considerations. The
statute read this way: “A person is immune from civil liability arising out of the act of procuring
alcohol beverages for or selling, dispensing, or giving away alcoholic beverages to another
person.” A majority of the court concluded that even though Kreuser breached a legal duty for
purposes of Stephenson’s negligence claim, Kreuser should be seen as having “procured” alcohol
for Devine because he helped bring about the bartender’s serving of more alcohol to Devine.
Therefore, the court reasoned, Kreuser should be protected against liability by the statute, which
by its very terms protected UMI against liability. In issuing the alternative holding that public
policy counseled against allowing Kreuser to be held liable, the court pointed to various
considerations, including the concern that Kreuser’s liability would be disproportionate to his
level of culpability. The court noted that because Wisconsin law protected direct providers of
alcohol and social hosts against liability (such as UMI in this case) when those to whom alcohol
was served became intoxicated and injured someone else, it would not be appropriate to hold
someone such as Kreuser liable. Wisconsin law, according to the court, placed the responsibility
for the harm caused solely on the shoulders of the intoxicated person. The dissenting members of
the court, along with a concurring judge, contended that the statute should not be interpreted as
protecting Kreuser against liability. They argued that even if Kreuser procured alcohol for
Devine by helping to bring about the serving of alcohol to him, Kreuser’s liability in the case
brought by Stephenson did not, in the words of the statute, “aris[e] out of the act of procuring
alcoholic beverages” for Devine. Instead, they contended, Kreuser’s liability stemmed from his
failure to drive a drunk Devine home after having agreed to do so. The dissenters also disagreed
with the majority’s public policy rationale for not holding Kreuser liable. They argued that as
between the innocent plaintiff and a defendant who had failed to use reasonable care by not
following through on his promise to drive a drunk home, it was better to place the economic
burden on the defendant.