Monday, February 29, 2016

Federal Middle District Judge Brann Reviews Peculiar Risk Exception in Landowner Slip and Fall Liability Case

Judge Matthew W. Brann of the Pennsylvania Middle District Court recently granted a Defendant's Motion to Dismiss in the slip and fall negligence case of Holt v. Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC, No. 4:15-CV-01728 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 10, 2016).  

In this case, Judge Brann ruled that a Defendant landowner could not be held liable for injuries sustained by an independent contractor’s employee when that employee slipped and fell through a snow covered greenhouse roof that the contractor was hired to clear.  

At the outset of his Opinion, Judge Brann outlined the stricter "plausibility" standard of review for federal court motions to dismiss enunciated by decisions in recent years by the Chief Justice Roberts-led U.S. Supreme Court. 

The court noted that the records confirmed that the contractors retained by Lowe's, one of which designed, manufactured and manufactured greenhouses of the type at issue, obviously knew of the existence of the snow, and also know of the possible structural damage to the area where the Plaintiff fell through the greenhouse roof.  

Judge Matthew W. Brann
M.D. Pa.

Judge Brann reaffirmed that a landowner will not be held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of an independent contractor hired to perform work on the land.  The court rejected the Plaintiff's request for the application of the Peculiar Risk Exception to this general rule of non-liability

The court found that there was no peculiar risk or special danger presented by the facts of this matter.   Judge Brann stated that a snowy roof in winter in Pennsylvania did not amount to a peculiar risk as that term is identified under the law.

Judge Brann also held that it could not be a peculiar risk in that the premises owner did not have any duty to inspect as that duty had been contractually assumed by the contractor.

Judge Brann also supported his decision to dismiss the matter by asserting that the record did not prove causation attributable to Lowe's as the possessor of land.   In this regard, the court noted that the Plaintiff’s injury was caused, in part, by the failure to use safety equipment and that that failure was under the contractor’s responsibility and not the landowners.  

Anyone wishing to review Judge Brann's notable decision in the Holt case may click HERE

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of Reed Smith Law Firm.   Please be sure to check out Attorney Beck’s excellent blog, the Drug and Device Law Blog.    

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