Divided Supreme Court Rules in Bar’s Favor for Unforseen Fight in Parking Lot
As he was leaving Cavanaugh’s Sports Bar & Eatery one night, Eric Porterfield was left permanently blind after a fight broke out in the bar parking lot, prompting him to sue the eatery for negligence. Cavanaugh’s moved for summary judgment, arguing it owed Porterfield no duty because the incident was unforeseeable.
After the Lake Superior Court denied the bar’s motion, the Indiana Court of Appeals, in an interlocutory appeal, affirmed Cavanaugh’s motion. Porterfield then appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court which divided the justices in a split decision that ultimately reversed and remanded in the bar’s favor.
Writing for the majority, Justice Mark Massa cited Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.3d 316, 325 (Ind. 2016), and Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384, 390 (Ind. 2016), noting that “(w)hen evaluating the broad class of plaintiff and broad type of harm in these cases, we acknowledged a key factor is whether the landowners knew or had reason to know about any present and specific circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to recognize the probability or likelihood of imminent harm.”
“In the years since Goodwin and Rogers, courts have thoughtfully applied this framework, finding duty only when landowners had this contemporaneous knowledge,” the majority, including Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, held. “… But without notice of present and specific circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to recognize the risk of an imminent criminal act, our Court of Appeals has consistently held since Goodwin and Rogers — until now — that landowners cannot foresee these sudden attacks.”
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