Mississippi retailer not liable for injury to a child who rode a bicycle through aisles he found on the store floor.

Attempts by the plaintiff to re-characterize stands and racks did not get past the judge. However, in many cases, the way a plaintiff casts a product can later define how the jury sees the case.

Wilson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 161 So. 3d 1128; 2015 Miss. App. LEXIS 216

State: Mississippi, Court of Appeals of Mississippi

Plaintiff: Seth Wilson, by and Through His Mother and Next Friend, Suzette Wilson Purser

Defendant: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: Premises Liability

Defendant Defenses: No duty

Holding: For the Defendant Retailer

Year: 2015

This is a screwy little case, but worth the effort. A family, Step-Father, mother and two sons went into a Wal-Mart to buy a basketball. While there, the two sons walked over to the bicycle aisle and proceeded to ride two bicycles they found through the aisles.

One brother, in attempting to put a bicycle back in the rack, slowed down. The other brother was not used to hand breaks, maneuvered around the brother riding into a shelf where he suffered a cut on his leg.

They both got on bicycles that were on the bicycle rack, and started riding up and down the aisles nearby. The bicycle Seth rode was on the ground when he found it, with its front wheel pushed under the rack and its back wheel in the aisle. Seth was following Wyatt on his bicycle when Wyatt slowed down to put the bicycle he was riding away. Seth was forced to go around him because he was “going real fast” and “[could not] figure out how to stop.” He tried to brake using the pedals, but the bicycle only had handbrakes. Unable to stop, Seth ran into a wall and cut his leg on a shelf. The cut was deep and required stitches.

Of note was the statement that the employee assigned to the area was absent and there were no signs posted prohibiting the use of the bicycles.” (So bars now need to put up signs no drinking from the tap without paying for the product first?). The employee assigned to the department was outside at the time of the accident, and no signs were posted prohibiting the use of the bicycles or otherwise warning of any danger.”

The defendant was ten at the time of the injury so whether or not signs were posted probably would not have made a difference. And it seems that allowing children to ride bikes through the aisles at Wal-Mart in Mississippi is a common practice, which sort of blows my mind.

The injured child’s mother filed a lawsuit on his behalf, since he was a minor, and sued Wal-Mart based on a premise’s liability theory. Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment stating there was no genuine issue of material fact showing that there was a dangerous condition that Wal-Mart should have warned about.

The motion was granted, and the plaintiff appealed the decision.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first looked at the premises’ liability law that the plaintiff claimed had been breached by Wal-Mart. To prove his case the plaintiff must show that he was an invitee, the duty owed to him based on his status and whether Wal-Mart breached that duty.

Seth’s premises-liability claim, this Court must (1) determine the status of the injured person as either an invitee, licensee, or trespasser, (2) assess, based on the injured party’s status, what duty the landowner or business operator owed to the injured party, and (3) determine whether the landowner or business operator breached the duty owed to the injured. 

Because the plaintiff was there with his parents to purchase a basketball, he was defined as an invitee. As such, the duty of a land owner (or retailer) was to keep the premises reasonably safe and when not reasonably safe, to warn of the hidden dangers. If the peril were in plain and open view, there is no duty to warn of them.

To succeed in a premises-liability action, Seth must prove one of the following: “(1) a negligent act by [Wal-Mart] caused [his] injury; or, (2) that [Wal-Mart] had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, but failed to warn [him] of the danger; or, (3) the dangerous condition remained long enough to impute constructive knowledge to [Wal-Mart].”

Is a bicycle on display at a retailer a dangerous condition? The plaintiff argued the bicycle should have been locked up so the plaintiff could not ride it. The bicycle was not in a rack at the time the plaintiff found the bike.

He argues that (1) Wal-Mart’s possession of a rack on which to clamp the bicycles, (2) the assignment of an employee to the toy department, and (3) evidence of other children on bicycles in the same aisle at the same Wal-Mart show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles created a dangerous condition, and that Wal-Mart knew about it and failed to warn its patrons. He cites to no authority to support his position, and nothing in the record supports these allegations.

The plaintiff then characterized the rack that the bike should have been in as a “safety rack.” However, the court caught on to that maneuver and reviewed the operation of the rack and the manufacturer’s description and found the rack was designed only to hold bikes, not to prevent them from being moved.

Seth refers to the rack where the bicycles could be clamped as a safety rack, but there is nothing in the record to indicate that the purpose for the rack was to protect its patrons from the alleged danger posed by unlocked or readily accessible bicycles. The record contains installation instructions for the rack, which were prepared by VIDIR Machine Inc., a vertical storage company, and refers to the rack as a carrier or bike-merchandising system only. The rack does not contain a locking mechanism, and holds bicycles in place utilizing a tire clamp

The plaintiff argued that since the bikes would be difficult to remove from the rack, an employee would need to be there to make sure the bikes were removed properly and only when allowed.

However, the entire argument failed. No employee was stationed at the rack to guard against removing bikes. Other children rode bikes in the aisle without incidence, which indicated there was no real danger and no evidence of a standard was presented indicating a requirement to lock up bikes on the show floor.

Additionally, there is nothing in the record to indicate the assignment of an employee to the toy department was for the purpose of guarding against any known danger; and evidence that other children rode bicycles in the same aisle in the same Wal-Mart without incident does not, in and of itself, tend to show that unlocked or readily accessible bicycles pose a danger. Seth provided no evidence of the industry’s standards, no expert reports, and no evidence of Wal-Mart’s policy regarding who may remove the bicycles from the rack and whether its employees were required to.

The plaintiff then argued a higher duty was owed to the plaintiff because he was a minor. However, the duty owed under a premise’s liability act does not change due to the age of the invitee. The plaintiff also knew how to ride a bicycle and learned at the age of five. The plaintiff had also been involved in numerous bicycle accidents prior to the one that injured him at the retailers’ premises.

An unlocked bicycle was found not to present a dangerous condition such that a warning had to be posted by the retailer about the risk to the consumers.

So Now What?

The first issue which was handled quickly by the court was the attempt by the plaintiff to characterize something as different than it actually was. By calling the bike rack a safety rack the plaintiff could place in the juries mind a requirement that did not exist. It is important that these issues not be allowed to explode and create liability just because thclip_image002_thumb.jpge plaintiff miss-labels part of the case.

Another issue is the fact that parents allow their kids to ride bicycles through the aisles of stores, and the retailer does not put a stop to it. What if the plaintiff had hit another patron rather than a shelf?

As always, the issue of putting warning signs up so people who can’t read, can be protected always makes me wonder. Warning if you are unable to read this sign, please find someone to read it to you. Seriously the entire world is going to be nothing but signs if this continues.

Thankfully, the retailer was not liable for the actions of an inattentive parent for the injuries of their child riding a bike down a store aisle.

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Article in Bicycle Industry & Industry News (BRAIN) points out major issues in not understanding when a retailer is liable.

Remember the “Ride Board” in college? People looking for rides and people going somewhere with cars would post on the ride board. College’s involvement was the board, nothing more. If you are more than a “board,” you may have legal issues as a retailer.

Bicycle Retailer and Industry News is the trade magazine for the cycling industry. One of their columns is titled Retail and asks several retailers a question each edition about a topic of importance. The September 1, 2015 issue, Vol. 24, Number 15, page 18, asked the question “Does your shop host group rides? Is liability a concern?

The answers from the retailers were all over the spectrum, as usual. However, what caught my attention was the lack of knowledge on where the liability boundary lies with retailers.

Below are quotes from the article and my response about what the liability may really be.

A.

“We have a weekly road rides that leaves from the store, but it’s just a starting point – the shop doesn’t really have anything to do with it.”

Hopefully, this statement is 100% correct. However, the issue is not what the liability is from the shops’ viewpoint but the liability from the customers and riders’ viewpoint. Do they see the shop as hosting the ride or does the shop just function as an address and parking lot?

Remember the ride board in college. It was usually a cork board with pins. People with cars going someplace looking for people to share gas or costs would post the info about their trip on the board. People looking for a ride someplace would also post their info on the board. If things matched a driver with a car got a rider for the trip.

The sole involvement of the college was the cork board, maybe pins and the 3X5 cards. The college did no go find drivers or riders. Consequently, the college’s involvement created no legal liability.

Legal liability attaches when you create a duty, an obligation to someone. That usually is not from your perspective but from the perspective of the injured party. Do the riders’ meeting at your store understand that you have no liability for the ride? That you are offering your packing lot as a service and that service ends when the riders walk out your door and leave on the ride.

A group ride where the retailer can’t be liable should probably be run the same way. In litigation, any involvement by the retailer can be interpreted as legally liable for the ride. Employees in kits from the retailer, employees organizing or leading the ride, or the employees telling customers about the stores rides might be enough to drag the retailer into court. Advertising the ride in a newsletter or online may create that misunderstanding in a rider.

Probably, retailers should jump in and get involved in the ride, have liability insurance to protect them from incidents on the ride and have a release signed or just put up a ride board. You are generating positive community feelings with the ride, which may be blunted by not telling anyone about them and telling those that show up you are not responsible for them.

B.

“A weekly group ride leaves from our store, but it is organized by the participants.  We also hope to have gravel/adventure and mountain group rides leaving from out shop in the near future.”

The issue here was the two different sentences in the quote. If the participants truly are running the ride and the store is just an address, then the store is probably not liable. However, the store created liability when it said, “we hope to have” other rides. If the store wants the rides, is the store liable for the rides? That could be an issue.

You can probably create a ride board like situation with your newsletter or website; however, that would require a disclaimer. Actively going out and getting people to show up for a ride probably places you in a different view from the people showing up for the ride.

C.

“Several of our structured activities, like an “Introduction to Mountain Biking” series, are led by a professional instructor who carries her own insurance for groups like this.”

This is one way of avoiding liability but only if you go the extra steps.

1.     The professional leading the rides MUST list the store on her insurance policy as an additional insured. Just because she has insurance does not mean the insurance will cover the store. If the store is found to have something to do with the ride, only if the store is covered as an additional insured will the instructor’s insurance be of any help.

The rider can have insurance and defend any claim but the store maybe left holding the bag. The professional’s insurance will not cover the store, unless there is an agreement, naming the store as an additional insured, to do so.

Just because one of the two possible defendants has insurance will not protect the one without insurance. If the injury is great enough or the medical bills large enough, the injured party, their insurance company and their attorney will look to anyone who might be able to write a check for the damages.

2.     The professional rider should have a release that covers her and the store. That way, the instructor and the store and both protected rather than the injured consumer realizing the rider can’t be sued because of the release suing the store because they were not covered by the release.

Again if the professional rider has a release that protects her, the injured party may immediately turn to the store. The store is no covered by the release it makes the lawsuit against the store much easier. Small claims through many big claims will be started against the retailer than fight a release.

D.

“We try to keep a pretty chill attitude around the shop and events, and that tends to attract less litigious group of people.”

A large percentage of the lawsuits in the US are not filed by the injured person. They are filed by the injured person’s health insurer. Every health insurance policy, in fact, every insurance policy, has a subrogation clause. That clause allows the insurance company to file a lawsuit using your name to recover any funds from someone who may be liable for your injuries.

A rider, you best friend, is riding in your group rides. An accident occurs, and your friend is injured and spends a week in the hospital. Your friend’s health insurance policy looks at the facts and determines that your store was liable for the friend’s injuries and sues you. Your friend can do nothing to stop that lawsuit, unless he refuses the benefits under the policy and repays all the money the insurance company spent on his injury.

Not only is your shop at risk but so is your friendship.

The second big way this theory is destroyed is the surviving spouse. Facing life with no husband, no breadwinner with several kids a surviving spouse with no interest in cycling, and who saw your cycling shop as a money pit, might not have any qualms suing you.

The final issue is it might be money. If a customer becomes a quadriplegic or paraplegic, the cost of living is beyond anyone’s ability. Medical bills usually pass $5M, and future medical bills are usually more. Consequently, just living may force a cyclist now in a wheel chair or worse, to sue.

E.

“We do organize, collaborate on or host various endurance races, and for these we run the liability through a statewide organization that has a series of free events. These free races require a signed waiver to participate, and between that and the no-cash organization that keeps the series going…”

Just like the professional rider mentioned above the other party’s actions are not enough. The statewide organization should list the store as an additional insured on its policy and place the stores name on the release.

So Now What?

Events are a great way to get a retail stores name in front of the public and promote good will. They can be done with a minimum of money and mostly a lot of effort. The liability issues can be handled just as easily.

1)   Make sure your general liability coverage on your policy covers the events you want to have. The policy should cover events and activities away from the store, in the parking lot and in the store. If you have doubts contact your broker and get an email or letter saying you have coverage for the event or activity.

2)   Have a release created by an attorney to cover all the events you have that protects the store, the employees and officers of the store and anyone else that could be sued because of the event.

a)   If the release is being provided by a third party, someone else, make sure your store and your employees are covered by their release. Your store must have its name on the release.*

b)   At the same time, don’t have two releases. Several lawsuits have occurred where the plaintiff signed two releases and one or both releases were thrown out.  

3)   Make sure that anyone else that is part of the event and has insurance lists your store as an additional insured. Fights between insurance companies over whose insurance covers an accident can take longer and cost more than the original accident.

4)   Dependent upon the type of event and who is putting it on, you may want an indemnification agreement from the party organizing the event. An example would be a cyclist jumping over your store on a mountain bike. You are getting some PR from the event, but the liability far exceeds the PR value in some cases. The Organizer is making money and should be able to indemnify you if the rider is caught by a gust a wind and lands on spectators, someone’s car or the wrong building.

 

* Retailers forget that a release collects information. You can use the release to collect names and contact info for future marketing or promotions. Include in the release language that they give you the right to contact them.

 

Additional articles you may find helpful:

Protecting Your Bike Shop and Yourself When Hosting Events                    http://rec-law.us/1zAPdu5

Insurance 101                                              http://rec-law.us/yw3HhI

RELEASE (Waiver) CHECKLIST                        http://rec-law.us/ZVVUtd

Release/Waivers: The basics, the very basics!   http://rec-law.us/AaqwqH

States that do not Support the Use of a Release       http://rec-law.us/1i5C6cN

 

Scott Chapin of Marsh & McLennan Agency who specializes in cycling insurance issues runs a blog about these issues: http://bicycleindustry.rjfagencies.com/Blog/ProtectionforShopRides.aspx

 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Copyright 2015 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

Email: Rec-law@recreation-law.com

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By Recreation Law    Rec-law@recreation-law.com         James H. Moss

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Retailers in a minority of states may have a defense to product liability claims when they have nothing to do with the manufacture of the product.

The Passive-Retailer doctrine provides a defense for companies in the supply chain who have no hand, influence or part of the manufacturing process. The key word in the defense is the word passive.

Mcquivey v. Fulmer Helmets, Inc., 2014 UT App 177; 335 P.3d 361; 766 Utah Adv. Rep. 32; 2014 Utah App. LEXIS 184; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P19,438

State: Utah, Court of Appeals of Utah

Plaintiff: Jamie Mcquivey

Defendant: Kim Yong Lung Industrial (KYL), which manufactured the helmet in Taiwan; Fulmer Helmets, which distributed the helmet throughout the American market; and White Knuckle Motor Sports, which sold the helmet

Plaintiff Claims: strict liability for defective design as well as negligence and failure to warn, Utah Product Liability Act

Defendant Defenses: Passive retailer defense

Holding: For the plaintiff

Year: 2014

The facts in this case are a little outside of the normal facts written about here. However, the defense in the case is rare and the opportunity to write about the case is important.

This case involves a helmet that failed during an ATV accident. The eight-year-old son of the plaintiff was riding an ATV when he crashed. His helmet cracked, and the helmet cut his face. The mother sued the Manufacturer, the importer distributor and the retailer.

The manufacturer and retailer were dismissed from the case leaving only the importer, Fulmer. The retailer was dismissed because “White Knuckle [retailer] had neither knowledge of potential defects nor influence over the helmet’s design, safety, or manufacturing.” The manufacturer was dismissed because it moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

The importer/defendant then moved to dismiss based on the theory that Fulmer was a passive retailer and could not be held liable for the defects in the helmet. The district court agreed and dismissed Fulmer. The plaintiff appealed that decision leading to this appeal.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court first went through Utah Product liability law.

Under general principles of tort law, “as between an injured buyer of a product, and the seller of the product, the seller must bear the liability.”

Under Utah’s Product Liability Act, a “manufacturer or other initial seller” who sells an “unreasonably dangerous product” may be liable for resulting “personal injury, death, or property damage.”

Under Utah’s law, strict liability does not require proof of fault, only that the manufacturer sold a defective helmet.

The court then defined the Passive-Retailer Doctrine.

The passive-retailer doctrine creates an exception to strict liability under the Product Liability Act for “passive retailers”–sellers who do not “participate in the design, manufacture, engineering, testing, or assembly” of a product. Under this doctrine, “a passive retailer is not subject to a strict liability claim . . . where the manufacturer is a named party to the action.” The passive-retailer doctrine thus allows the trial court to dismiss a strict-liability claim against a codefendant when undisputed facts establish that no fact finder could, under principles of comparative fault, apportion fault to that codefendant. In this circumstance, “as long as [the actual manufacturer] is present in the suit, there remains no reason to require [a passive retailer] to incur the time and expense of defending” the action.

This is a defense for retailers, that has been adopted by a minority of states. It makes sense in today’s world of prepackaged products that are too complicated for the normal retailer to understand.

This decision found legislatures in Nebraska, Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Washington had adopted a variation of the doctrine. Courts in Texas, New York, and Oklahoma adopted  the doctrine.

In Utah, the doctrine only was used twice. However, in this case this court found the doctrine did not apply. The defendant Fulmer did more than merely import and sell the helmets.

The defendant’s name was on the helmets, and they were marketed as Fulmer’s helmets. Fulmer reviewed the design of the helmets, tested samples and made changes to the samples. Fulmer performed on-site visits to the manufacturing facility twice annually. Fulmer required the helmets to be manufactured to US DOT standards.

Finally, we note that Fulmer holds itself out to the public as the manufacturer of the helmets that bear its name. Under Second Restatement of Torts, “[o]ne who puts out as his own product a chattel manufactured by another is subject to the same liability, as though he were its manufacturer.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 400 (1965). “[O]ne puts out a chattel as his own product when he puts it out under his name or affixes to it his trade name or trademark.”

This level of participation was found by the court to be more than passive. The court based on this review found the defendant importer did not qualify for the defense of the Passive Retailer doctrine and sent the case back for trial.

So Now What?

The product liability laws in the US were developed to protect people. That worked when everyone in the supply chain from the manufacturer to the retailer could identify a defect and stop the sale of a defective product. That time ended when we moved from a “general store” to the current marketing system we use today.

If you are a retailer, you should investigate if the Passive-Retailer Doctrine applies to you in your state. Find out what you need to do to make sure you understand the doctrine and how you must work to be afforded its protection.

If you are a manufacturer, you need to understand who in your supply chain may be subject to this defense and keep that in mind when dealing with everyone in your supply chain to keep the defense viable.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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When there is no proof that the problem created by the defendant caused the injury, there is no proximate causation, therefore no negligence

Skier whose bindings did not release and possibly were set to high, could not prove that if his bindings did release he would not have suffered his injury.

Mack v. Viking Ski Shop, Inc., 2014 IL App (1st) 130768; 2014 Ill. App. LEXIS 684

State: Illinois

Plaintiff: Matthew Mack

Defendant: Viking Ski Shop, Inc. & Salomon North America, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: defendant failed to make a reasonable inspection before selling the ski equipment to plaintiff, defendant failed to properly adjust the ski equipment, specifically the bindings, to plaintiff’s height, weight, and ski type.

Defendant Defenses: No proximate causation

Holding: for the defendants

Year: 2014

Remember there are four steps (in most states) to prove negligence.

·        Duty

·        Breach of the Duty

·        Injury

·        Proximate causation

Each of these points must be proven to hold a defendant negligent.

In this case, the plaintiff purchased skis, boots and bindings in Illinois before going skiing in Colorado. While skiing he fell suffering a knee injury, a tibial plateau fracture. The plaintiff’s bindings did not release during the fall. The plaintiff returned to Illinois and sued the shop that mounted his bindings and the binding manufacturer.

The plaintiff argued that the ski shop that mounted his bindings mounted them for a Type III skier, and he was a Type II skier. The ski industry has developed a skier identification program to determine a skier’s ability level. (See http://www.dinsetting.com/ for information on the different skier levels.) The better the skier the higher the skier identification on a scale of 1 to 3. A better skier has a higher DIN setting or the harder, more pressure needed, to release the ski boot from the binding.

The plaintiff hired an expert who testified that in his opinion, the binding DIN was too high. The defendant hired two experts who stated that if the DIN setting were too high, it still would not have mattered. The pressure needed to release the boot at either DIN setting, Skier Type II or Type III was greater than the pressure that would cause his injury.

The trial court agreed and dismissed the case based on motions of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The appellate court reiterated the requirements to win a negligence case. Illinois has adopted a three-step approach to proving negligence, basically combining steps 3 and 4 into one step.

In order to recover damages based upon a defendant’s alleged negligence, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty; (2) that the defendant breached the duty; and (3) that the breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The court then looked at the requirements to prove proximate cause. Proximate cause has a fact component and a legal component. The factual component is determined by a “but for” test. “Cause, in fact, is established if the occurrence would not have happened “but for” the conduct of the defendant.”

Legal cause is based on foreseeability.

Legal cause, by contrast, is largely a question of foreseeability, and the relevant inquiry is whether the injury is of a type that a reasonable person would see as a likely result of his or her conduct. Furthermore, proximate cause must be established to a reasonable certainty and may not be based upon mere speculation, guess, surmise or conjecture.

Foreseeability is a difficult legal definition to the non-legal definition can suffice to understand the issues. Could the defendant have thought about the chances of something happening and was that more than mere speculation. Was it something that more than mere speculation could have brought to the speculation of the defendant.

Here the facts still fell below foreseeable. Even if the defendant was negligent and set the bindings incorrectly, the injury would have still occurred. Consequently, the cause, bindings set incorrectly, was not proximate to the injury.

In addition, even if we take Leffe’s testimony as true that defendants incorrectly set plaintiff’s bindings too high for his skier preference, plaintiff still fails to provide substantial evidence that if his bindings were at a lower setting his injury would not have occurred.

The appellate court upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the case.

So Now What?

This case was one because the defense team understood the factual and legal issues of the case and based on facts alone, proved the defendant was not liable. Having an attorney willing to take the time to understand and investigate all of the issues and an insurance company willing to pay for that time will allow the defendant in an outdoor recreation case to win 99% of the time.

Here the defense team kept asking questions until they fully understood the issues. The pressure needed to create a tibial plateau fracture was less than the binding release setting.

Hire a good attorney and take the time to educate your attorney in the facts of your case. Take them down the river, up the mountain or around the mountain on a mountain bike, so they understand all aspects of your business, what the plaintiff experienced and the particulars of your case.

Spend the money to equipment your attorney with a complete set of the equipment at issue in the case. Make sure they understand a forward stroke, a munter hitch and an ascender, or any other equipment at issue in the case. Have them play with the equipment, putting on the harness, releasing a boot from a binding or attaching a PFD until they understand all facets of the equipment.

Then your lawyer can investigate the case to use the best defense available for you.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Retailer has no duty to fit or instruct on fitting bicycle helmet

Louisiana Supreme Court set forth how a court decides if there should be a duty or to create a duty.

Carrier v. City of Amite, 2010-0007 (La. 10/19/10); 50 So. 3d 1247; 2010 La. LEXIS 2251

Plaintiff: Herman Carrier, Individually and in His Capacity as the Administrator of the Estate of his Minor Child, Herman Blake Carrier, and his Wife, Wendy Wallace Carrier

Defendant: City of Amite, Bell Sports, Inc., and Sears Roebuck and Co.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence failure to properly fit the helmet and instruct on the use of the helmet

Defendant Defenses: no duty

Holding: For the defendant (retailer) Sears Roebuck and Co.

The plaintiff’s in this case are a mother, father and six-year-old child. The parents went into a Sears store and purchased a bicycle helmet for the child. They did not ask for or receive any assistance in purchasing the helmet.

The boy was riding on the municipal tennis court when he had an accident. The plaintiffs sued the city that owned the tennis court, the helmet manufacturer and Sears Roebuck where they purchased the helmet.

Sears filed a motion for summary judgment arguing they had no duty to fit or instruct on the use of the helmet. The trial court granted the motion. The Appellate court reversed finding the trial court committed error in dismissing the case. Sears filed this appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Summary of the case

In this case, it was the responsibility of the plaintiff to prove negligence. The first step in that would be to prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to provide a point of sale fitting instruction for bicycle helmets.

In the instant case, plaintiffs do not identify any Louisiana statutory or jurisprudential authority which establishes a specific duty on the part of a retailer to fit bicycle helmets at the point of sale.” The only thing the plaintiff could point to was the opinion of its expert that the defendant owed a duty. However the expert could not point to any authorities, research or other retailers that supported his statement. “Courts have held that experts may not rely on their own conclusions as authority in the absence of any objective support.”

The court stated the considerations that need to be covered before a duty can be created.

…it is necessary for the court to determine whether the rule is intended to protect him from the particular harm alleged, an inquiry which involves both the duty and causation elements of the negligence formulation. The court must make a policy determination in light of the unique facts of the case. Thus, the duty-risk analysis requires the court to take into account the conduct of each party as well as the particular circumstances of the case. In determining whether to impose a duty in a particular situation, the court may consider various moral, social, and economic factors, including whether the imposition of a duty would result in an unmanageable flow of litigation; the ease of association between the plaintiff’s harm and the defendant’s conduct; the economic impact on society as well as the economic impact on similarly situated parties; the nature of the defendant’s activity; moral considerations, particularly victim fault; and precedent as well as the direction in which society and its institutions are evolving.

Applying the above requirements to this case, the court found no reason to create a duty upon the part of a retailer to provide a point of sale fitting instructions for bicycle helmets. “Under these circumstances, we find the responsibility to determine whether the helmet was properly fitted should rest with plaintiffs, not Sears.”

So Now What?

There are two important things that come from this decision. The first is no duty exists unless your industry, your community, or you create one. Unless you advertise you are going to do something, market yourself or write your requirements down, it is difficult for the plaintiff to prove you owe them anything, a duty or money.

The second is the list of requirements the court set forth to determine if a duty has been created. It is not as easy to review as a list; however, it provides some factors that you can review to make sure you are not creating liability that does not exist.

·        Make sure you know the issues you must do when dealing with your business, program or job.

·        Don’t create liability if you don’t have too.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Carrier v. City of Amite, 2010-0007 (La. 10/19/10); 50 So. 3d 1247; 2010 La. LEXIS 2251

Carrier v. City of Amite, 2010-0007 (La. 10/19/10); 50 So. 3d 1247; 2010 La. LEXIS 2251

Herman Carrier, Individually and in His Capacity as the Administrator of the Estate of his Minor Child, Herman Blake Carrier, and his Wife, Wendy Wallace Carrier versus City of Amite, Bell Sports, Inc., and Sears Roebuck and Co.

No. 2010-CC-0007

SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA

2010-0007 (La. 10/19/10); 50 So. 3d 1247; 2010 La. LEXIS 2251

October 19, 2010, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Rehearing denied by Carrier v. City of Amite, 2010 La. LEXIS 3053 (La., Dec. 10, 2010)

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1]

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIRST CIRCUIT, PARISH OF TANGIPAHOA.

Carrier v. City of Amite, 6 So. 3d 893, 2009 La. App. LEXIS 215 (La.App. 1 Cir., 2009)

DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND RENDERED.

COUNSEL: Stephen Dale Cronin, GUGLIELMO, MARKS, SCHUTTE, TERHOEVE & LOVE; John David Ziober, KENNON, ODOM & DARDENNE, APC, For Applicant.

Arthur W. Landry, Jeanne Andry Landry, ARTHUR W. LANDRY AND JEANNE ANDRY LANDRY, ATTORNEYS; Christopher M. Moody; John Ernest William Baay, II, Ernest Paul Gieger, Jr., GIEGER, LABORDE & LAPEROUSE, LLC; Thomas Reginald Hightower, Jr., THOMAS R. HIGHTOWER, JR., APLC, For Respondent.

OPINION

[*1247] PER CURIAM *

* Retired Judge Philip C. Ciaccio, assigned as Justice ad hoc, sitting for Chief Justice Catherine D. Kimball.

We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether this retail seller has a duty to instruct buyers on the proper method of wearing and fitting bicycle helmets. For the reasons that follow, we conclude plaintiffs failed to establish any legal duty on the part of the retailer under the facts presented.

UNDERLYING FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case arises from an incident in which six-year-old Blake Carrier was injured while riding his bicycle on a municipal tennis court on May 29, 2002. At the time of the accident, Blake was wearing a bicycle helmet his parents allegedly purchased from Sears, Roebuck and Co. (“Sears”) in December 2001.

[Pg 2] Subsequently, Blake’s parents filed the instant suit against several defendants, including Sears. 1 Plaintiffs alleged Sears [*1248] failed to properly fit the helmet and instruct them regarding its correct use.

1 Also named as defendants were Bell Sports, Inc. (the manufacturer of the helmet), and the City of Amite (the owner [**2] of the tennis court). These defendants are not at issue for purposes of this opinion.

During discovery, plaintiffs produced an expert in the area of bicycle safety, James Green. In his deposition, Mr. Green stated he advised his clients to instruct their buyers on the proper use and fit of bicycle helmets. However, Mr. Green admitted he knew of no rules or laws requiring retailers to fit and instruct buyers of bicycle helmets. Mr. Green also explained his clients did not include Sears.

Sears filed both a motion in limine and a motion for summary judgment. In support of the motion in limine, Sears argued Mr. Green had no basis for his conclusion that retailers had a duty to fit and instruct buyers on the proper way to wear a bicycle helmet. In support of the motion for summary judgment, Sears argued retailers had no duty to buyers to fit and instruct on the proper use of bicycle helmets.

The district court granted Sears’ motion in limine to exclude Mr. Green’s testimony, and further granted Sears’ motion for summary judgment to dismiss all claims against Sears.

Plaintiffs appealed. On appeal, the court of appeal reversed, finding the district court erred in deciding the duty issue without [**3] first determining that the expert’s testimony was inadmissible under the factors identified in Daubert v. [Pg 3] Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993), and State v. Foret, 628 So. 2d 1116 (La. 1993). Accordingly, the court of appeal reversed the judgment granting the motion for summary judgment, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. Carrier v. City of Amite, 08-1092 (La. App. 1 Cir. 2/13/09), 6 So. 3d 893, writ denied, 09-919 (La. 6/5/09), 9 So. 3d 874.

[Pg 4] On remand, Sears re-urged both the motion in limine and the motion for summary judgment. 2 After a hearing, the district court denied Sears’ motions.

2 On remand, Sears filed a pleading captioned “Motion for Hearing on Summary Judgment and Motion in Limine for Purposes of Issuance of Oral Reasons for Judgment, or Alternatively, Motion Requesting Written Reasons for Judgment.” Plaintiffs assert this motion was procedurally improper, because nothing in the court of appeal’s opinion indicated the case was being remanded for entry of reasons. However, the record reveals Sears filed its original motion for summary judgment and motion in limine, as well as [**4] supporting exhibits, into the record at the hearing. Thus, despite the caption of the motion, we believe Sears expanded its pleadings to reurge its motion for summary judgment and motion in limine. See La. Code Civ. P. art. 1154.

Sears sought supervisory review of this ruling. The court of appeal denied the writ, with one judge dissenting.

Upon Sears’ application, we granted certiorari to consider the correctness of the district court’s decision. Carrier v. City of Amite, 10-0007 (La. 3/12/10), 29 So. 3d 1241.

DISCUSSION

The central question presented in this case is whether plaintiffs established a legal duty on the part of a retailer, such as Sears, to provide point-of-sale fitting instructions for bicycle helmets. In Lemann v. Essen Lane Daiquiris, Inc., 05-1095 at p. 8 (La. 3/10/06), 923 So. 2d 627, 633, we discussed the principles for determining the existence of a legal duty:

[HN1] A threshold issue in any negligence action is whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty. Meany v. Meany, 94-0251, p. 6 (La. 7/5/94), 639 So.2d 229, 233. Whether a duty is owed is a question of law. Peterson v. Gibraltar Savings and Loan, 98-1601, 98-1609, p. 7 (La. 5/18/99), 733 So. 2d 1198, 1204; Mundy v. Department of Health and Human Resources, 620 So.2d 811, 813 (La. 1993); [**5] [*1249] Faucheaux v. Terrebonne Consolidated Government, 615 So.2d 289, 292 (La. 1993). In [Pg 5] deciding whether to impose a duty in a particular case, the court must make a policy decision in light of the unique facts and circumstances presented. See Socorro v. City of New Orleans, 579 So.2d 931, 938 (La. 1991). The inquiry is whether the plaintiff has any law (statutory, jurisprudential, or arising from general principles of fault) to support the claim that the defendant owed him a duty. Faucheaux, 615 So. 2d at 292; Perkins, 98-2081 at 22, 756 So. 2d at 404.

In the instant case, plaintiffs do not identify any Louisiana statutory or jurisprudential authority which establishes a specific duty on the part of a retailer to fit bicycle helmets at the point of sale. Rather, plaintiffs seek to establish the existence of industry standards, including best practices, which they claim are relevant to determine whether a general duty is owed.

At this juncture, the parties dedicate a large part of their briefs to discussing whether the district court properly qualified Mr. Green as an expert on the subject of point-of-sale assistance in the sale of bicycle accessories. However, we find we need not [**6] resolve the question of Mr. Green’s qualifications under the unique facts presented, because we find that Mr. Green’s testimony, even if accepted, is insufficient to establish any factual basis for a duty on the part of Sears.

In his deposition, Mr. Green testified as follows:

They came out with a mass market approach to the Wal-Marts, etcetera, the Sears, the Lowe’s, whoever, that wanted to sell bikes, where they just wanted to get bikes and components out there into the commerce stream. They don’t provide point-of-sale service at all. You have, you have two families of retail organizations here. I maintained ever since I saw this developing some years ago that this mass market approach is not a good thing, that if you’re going to be a reputable retailer and I tell my clients that, if you’re going to be a reputable retailer, you must properly instruct at the point-of-sale from everything to how to operate a quick release, to how to fit a helmet, to never ride at night without a light on your bike, that kind of thing. It should be done at the point-of-sale, because bikes aren’t toys, they’re, they’re vehicles. [emphasis added]

[Pg 6] Although Mr. Green testified the fitting of bicycle [**7] helmets “should” be done at the point of sale, he cited no authority for this proposition other than his own opinion. To the contrary, when asked whether any regulations existed requiring a retailer to provide point-of-sale instructions on fitting bicycle helmets, Mr. Green testified, “[n]o, there’s nothing written up as a standard.”

Similarly, in response to Sears’ interrogatories, plaintiffs admitted Mr. Green did not rely on any formal requirements in support of his position:

INTERROGATORY NO. 4

Please identify any and all standards, state or federal regulations, engineering, helmet manufacturer, department store and/or retail association periodicals, documents or guidelines which your expert, James M. Green, relies upon in opining that an industry standard existed in November, 2001 requiring that retailers of bicycle helmets must give point of sale instructions on proper sizing and fitting.

ANSWER TO INTERROGATORY NO. 4:

There is no requirement but perfectly clear instructions provided by BHSI. Most reputable retailers do fit at the [*1250] point of sale. These include REI, Performance Bicycle, Brooklyn Bike Shop, and any bike shop who belong to the Independent Bicycle Retailer Organization [**8] (now known as the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA). There are currently 6000 shops who belong to NBDA who employ helmet fit at point of sale (See attached documentation from NBDA). The NBDA also outlined the differences between a reputable shop and a mass merchant shop on the safety issue. (See attached documentation from NBDA). [emphasis in original]

A review of the documentation attached to plaintiffs’ answer to Interrogatory No. 4 reveals none of these documents set forth an industry standard which would mandate the fitting of bicycle helmets by a retailer at the point of sale. Moreover, Mr. Green admitted he did not know if Sears belonged to any bicycle safety industry group.

[Pg 7] Under these circumstances, we must conclude Mr. Green’s testimony reflects his own personal opinion as to what a retailer should do, and is not based on any objective standards establishing what a retailer is required to do. Courts have held that [HN2] experts may not rely on their own conclusions as authority in the absence of any objective support. See Grdinich v. Bradlees, 187 F.R.D. 77 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (holding the expert’s testimony was without foundation because “[w]ithout ‘industry standards’ [**9] to rely upon, [the expert] seems to base his conclusions on his own authority”). Thus, Mr. Green’s testimony does not establish the existence of any statutes, regulations, or industry standards which would support the finding of a duty on a retailer to fit bicycle helmets at the point of sale.

Additionally, as a matter of policy, we find no ground for recognizing such a duty based on general principles of tort law. In Meany v. Meany, 94-0251 at p. 6 (La. 7/5/94), 639 So. 2d 229, 233, we discussed the policy considerations to be taken into account in determining whether the law imposes a duty under particular facts:

[HN3] When a plaintiff articulates a general rule or principle of law that protects his interests, it is necessary for the court to determine whether the rule is intended to protect him from the particular harm alleged, an inquiry which involves both the duty and causation elements of the negligence formulation. The court must make a policy determination in light of the unique facts of the case. Thus, the duty-risk analysis requires the court to take into account the conduct of each party as well as the particular circumstances of the case. Socorro v. City of New Orleans, 579 So.2d 931, 938 (La. 1991). [**10] In determining whether to impose a duty in a particular situation, the court may consider various moral, social, and economic factors, including whether the imposition of a duty would result in an unmanageable flow of litigation; the ease of association between the plaintiff’s harm and the defendant’s conduct; the economic impact on society as well as the economic impact on similarly situated parties; the nature of the defendant’s activity; moral considerations, particularly victim [Pg 8] fault; and precedent as well as the direction in which society and its institutions are evolving. Pitre v. Opelousas General Hospital, 530 So.2d 1151, 1161 (La. 1988); William E. Crow, The Anatomy of a Tort, 22 Loy. L. Rev. 903 (1976).

Applying these precepts to the instant case, we believe the policy considerations militate against the finding of any duty on the part of a retailer to provide point-of-sale fitting instructions for bicycle helmets. Under current societal norms, we do not believe it is reasonable to require mass-marketing [*1251] retailers, such as Sears, to offer specialized point-of-sale advice on the thousands of products they sell. Rather, it is typically understood the consumer will ask [**11] for assistance, if it is required. In the instant case, the deposition testimony of Mr. Carrier establishes he never asked for any assistance at the time he purchased the helmet. Moreover, Mr. and Mrs. Carrier testified in their respective depositions that they believed the helmet, which was purchased as a Christmas gift for Blake, fit him properly; indeed, Mrs. Carrier testified it “was the best-fitting helmet [Blake] ever had.” Mrs. Carrier admitted she did not consult the instructions for fitting the helmet, and testified the instructions “probably got thrown away because we’ve had helmets before so we know how to use them.” 3 Under these circumstances, we find the responsibility to determine whether the helmet was properly fitted should rest with plaintiffs, not Sears.

3 Interestingly, Mr. Green opined that the manufacturer’s instruction on use and fit in this case were “the best I’ve ever seen.” Nonetheless, Mr. Green stated he believed point-of-sale assistance on fit was necessary in part, because consumers frequently failed to consider the instructions on fit and use provided by manufacturers. However, Mr. Green conceded that such a duty did not exist in the case of mail-order [**12] purchases. This dichotomy in Mr. Green’s testimony reveals the fallacy in his conclusions. We believe the more consistent approach is to place the duty on the consumer to determine the product he or she purchased is appropriate for its intended use.

In summary, we conclude that under the facts presented, there is no legal duty which would require Sears to provide fitting instructions for bicycle [Pg 9] helmets at the point of sale. In the absence of any legal duty, Sears is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

DECREE

For the reasons assigned, the judgment of the district court is reversed. The motion for summary judgment filed by Sears, Roebuck Co. is granted, and judgment is entered in its favor dismissing the claims of plaintiffs with prejudice.

REVERSED AND RENDERED.

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I am speaking at the Outdoor Retailer Outdoor University, Winter Outdoor Retailer, Salt Lake City, UT

Wednesday January 23 at 10:30 AMBSA-logo

How to Bring Scouts Into Your Store: There’s Even an App for That!

You need to know how to work with scouts, how to get scouts into your store. There are 4 million Scouts camping 30  days a year. At present, their options are the BSA Supply and big-box stores. I have 40 years of scouting experience, as an employee & volunteer, and I can show you how to bring those kids into your store. The key is understanding the BSA program & its volunteers. Each week an adult volunteer working develops a program for the kids. If you develop programs that kids enjoy, a volunteer will gladly them to your store. The second issue is advancement. You have experts in your store in the areas that the youth of Scouting need to meet. For $5.00 a year you can be listed as a resource for all the scouts in your area. There’s even an app for it.

 

Wednesday January 23, at 1:30

The Outdoor Recreation Retail Store: Liability IssuesBSA On The Go

Retailers are faced with a myriad of problems today. Liability should not be one of them. When looking at a new product at OR the retailer needs to understand whether or not that product can be brought into a store and the issues. Once in a store the retailer needs to understand the disclaimer language on the product and how that needs to be dealt with. Next the retailer must understand any issues in selling the product. A new issue that retailers are going to face is a continuing duty to warn of issues after the sale. Between this new liability issue and recalls either mandated by the CPSC or voluntary, the retailer can be stuck between a rock and hard place or left holding the bag. At the same time, understanding the new duty can create an opportunity to collecting additional information from customers and market to them post sale. Renting outdoor product is always an issue. What information must go with the product when it is rented? What cannot be rented? (Nothing, as long as there is Hertz, we can rent stoves.) What should you do if you are named in a lawsuit?

See you there!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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