Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ryals v. United States Steel Corporation case brief

Ryals v. United States Steel Corporation case summary
562 So. 2d 192 (Alabama 1990)

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Plaintiff administrator of decedent's estate (administrator) sought review of summary judgment entered by Jefferson Circuit Court (Alabama) in favor of defendant owner relative to the administrator's complaint that the owner caused decedent's death by wantonly failing to maintain and secure a "switch rack."

OVERVIEW: The administrator and the decedent trespassed on the owner's land for the purpose of "stripping out" copper, brass, and other salvageable metals. Decedent died during these actions on the owner's land. The administrator filed a claim that the owner's wanton failure to maintain and secure a "switch rack" caused decedent's death. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the owner and the court affirmed.


The court held that the degree of care that a landowner owed a trespasser who wrongfully entered the land to commit a crime was the duty not to intentionally injure a trespasser.

-The court concluded that the owner did not intentionally cause decedent's death.
-The court noted that a chain link fence topped with barbwire surrounded the "switch rack" and there was at least one sign warning of the present of electricity.


-The standard of care that a landowner owes to a trespasser is generally recognized as the lowest standard of care owed to one who enters upon another's land.
-The landowner is bound only to refrain from reckless, willful, or wanton conduct toward the trespasser.
-The highest degree of care imposed upon a landowner by this traditional common law rule toward a mere trespasser is not to recklessly or wantonly injure that person.
-"Wantonness" has been defined by the court as the conscious doing of some act or the omission of some duty under the knowledge of the existing conditions, and conscious that from the doing of such act or omission of such duty injury will likely or probably result.
-Wantonness may arise when one has knowledge that persons, though not seen, are likely to be in a position of danger, and, with conscious disregard of known conditions of danger and in violation of law, brings on the disaster.
-Wantonness may arise after discovery of actual peril, by conscious failure to use preventive means at hand.
-Knowledge need not be shown by direct proof, but may be shown by adducing facts from which knowledge is a legitimate inference.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the owner in the administrator's claim for wantonness.


Legal Terms:  trespasser, landowner's, wantonness, switch, rack, summary judgment, injure, intentionally, standard of care, conscious, owes, wantonly, duty owed, electrical, copper, fence, adult, wire, matter of law, reckless, omission, warning, inflict, wanton, gate, owed, mere trespassers, intent to commit, degree of care, issue of material fact

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