Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Valance v. Vi-Doug, Inc. case brief

Valance v. Vi-Doug, Inc. case summary
50 P.3d 697 (Wyo. 2002)

SYNOPSIS: Plaintiff, an invitee, sued defendant restaurant for damages in the District Court of Converse County, Wyoming, alleging negligence in failing to provide an entry reasonably safe from the wind, and in posting a sign with instructing to hold the door tightly. The district court granted the restaurant summary judgment and the invitee appealed. Following the invitee's death, an order was entered substituting her personal representative as appellant.

-A sign on the door read: "Please hold door tight due to wind."
-The invitee testified she did so while opening the restaurant's front door when the wind forcefully caught it, causing her to fall and break her hip.
-On appeal the invitee contended that the open-and-obvious-danger exception was abrogated in Wyoming by the adoption of comparative negligence.

The court disagreed, holding that the analysis of a premises owner's duty to an invitee was bifurcated into an initial determination of whether a duty existed at all, and secondly, if a duty existed, an application of comparative negligence.

-Despite the general rule that a possessor of land owed a duty to his business invitees to maintain his premises in a reasonably safe condition, the restaurant did not owe the invitee a duty to protect her from the naturally occurring wind.
-The question whether the restaurant created a dangerous condition by placing a sign on the door directing invitees to take specific action was a question of basic fact for the jury to decide.

A person who gratuitously undertakes to warn someone of a dangerous condition must use reasonable care in making the warning, but that person is not subject to liability unless a failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of harm to those he is trying to aid, or if harm is suffered because of another's reliance on the undertaking.

CONCLUSION: The court affirmed the district court's ruling that the open-and-obvious-danger exception applied to naturally occurring forces of wind, but reversed the district court's summary judgment on the issue of the restaurant's sign instructing invitees to hold the door tightly, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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