On Appeal

The AP&S Appellate Law Blog

2014 Year in Review – Negligence – Dangerous Conditions Outside the Property

Brown v. Stanley, 86 A.3d 387 (R.I. 2014): In Brown, the Rhode Island Supreme Court was called upon to decide whether two charitable organizations owed a duty of care to an individual who was injured when she was struck by a truck while crossing a public roadway to join participants in a fundraising walk sponsored by the organizations. The plaintiff argued that the organizations assumed a duty to provide for the safety of participants in the walk by taking affirmative steps to control traffic in the roadway. However, in view of the facts of the case, including that the plaintiff had rejected any offers of assistance in crossing the roadway, the Court concluded that the charitable organizations owed no duty of care to the plaintiff.

Phelps v. Hebert, 93 A.3d 942 (R.I. 2014): In Phelps, a case involving a tragic all-terrain vehicle (“ATV”) accident that took the life of Ashley Phelps, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that a landowner cannot be held liable for an injury occurring outside the premises, even if the landowner has allowed the dangerous condition to exist on his or her land, when the landowner had no ability to control the dangerous condition.

Rhode Island courts have also recognized that “a landowner may . . . be liable for injures occurring outside the premises when he or she allows a dangerous condition or activity to exist on their land.” To be liable under this theory, a landowner must “(1) know or have reason to know that they have the ability to control the person(s) using their land, and (2) know or should know of the necessity and opportunity for exercising such control.”

In Phelps, the landowners hosted a graduation party for their son when a guest brought an ATV onto their property. Phelps, a guest at the party, asked the driver of the ATV for a ride and together, they left the landowners’ property and traveled down the street before the ATV flipped over. Phelps died nine days later.

In considering whether the landowners owed a duty of care to Phelps, a guest at their home who voluntarily left the party in the ATV and was injured off outside their premises, the Supreme Court recognized that there was no indication that the landowners had the ability to control the ATV driver’s actions to prevent injury. Accordingly, the Court declined to impose a duty of care on the landowners.

About The Author

Nicole J. Benjamin

I am a shareholder and business litigator at AP&S. I help businesses and their legal departments achieve their objectives by reducing their liabilities, advising them on complex legal matters and defending unavoidable litigation in federal and state court.

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