Clarke v. Beckwith, No. 92-288

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBefore MACY; MACY; CARDINE; GOLDEN, Justice, specially concurring with whom CARDINE
Citation858 P.2d 293
Docket NumberNo. 92-288
Decision Date13 August 1993
PartiesDebra S. CLARKE, Appellant (Plaintiff), v. Rex BECKWITH, Appellee (Defendant).

Page 293

858 P.2d 293
Debra S. CLARKE, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
Rex BECKWITH, Appellee (Defendant).
No. 92-288.
Supreme Court of Wyoming.
Aug. 13, 1993.

Page 294

Steven R. Helling, Casper, for appellant.

Travis W. Moffat of Moffat & McKee, P.C., Lander, for appellee.

Before MACY, C.J., and THOMAS, CARDINE, GOLDEN and TAYLOR, JJ.

MACY, Chief Justice.

Appellant Debra S. Clarke, who was injured when she slipped and fell on ice in a driveway, appeals from the district court's order granting a summary judgment in favor of Appellee Rex Beckwith, the owner of the premises where Ms. Clarke fell.

We reverse, remand, and abandon a portion of the common-law rule which distinguishes between tort claimants on the basis of whether their status is licensee or invitee.

Ms. Clarke pursues resolution of these questions:

Did the Trial Court err when it granted Appellee's (Defendant below) Motion for Summary Judgment? Were there genuine issues of material fact which precluded the entry of summary judgment? Was Appellee entitled to judgment as a matter of law?

Under the facts of this case, these issues necessarily include the following sub-issues:

What duty of care is owed by the owner and occupant of premises who expressly invites persons to his or her premises?

Was there a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Appellee breached that duty in this case, and was Appellee entitled to judgment as a matter of law?

In response, Mr. Beckwith articulates this summary of the matters to be settled:

1. Was Summary Judgment appropriately rendered in favor of Appellee Beckwith because

a. there were no genuine issues of material fact as to the legal status of Appellant Clarke at the time she fell on Appellee's driveway, and

b. there were no genuine issues of material fact supporting the contention that Appellee's conduct fell below the willful and wanton standard of care?

2. Should this Court abandon the common law classifications of trespasser, licensee, and invitee in favor of an ordinary negligence standard of care for entrants upon the land of others?

Ms. Clarke filed her complaint, alleging that she had been injured on December 23, 1991, when she fell in Mr. Beckwith's driveway as she arrived to attend an annual Christmas party. Mr. Beckwith answered the complaint and filed a motion for summary judgment, professing that Ms. Clarke was a social guest-licensee and that, because of her status, his only duty as to Ms. Clarke was not to cause her injury through willful and wanton misconduct.

Page 295

The facts are virtually undisputed. Mr. Beckwith hosted a Christmas party at his home in Sinks Canyon on Monday, December 23, 1991. Snow fell during the weekend preceding the party. Mr. Beckwith used his snowblower on Sunday afternoon to remove that snow from his driveway. On Monday afternoon, the day of the party, he used a scoop shovel to dislodge the remaining compacted snow which had not been removed by the snowblower.

Ms. Clarke was formally invited to attend the Christmas party. When she arrived at Mr. Beckwith's home, numerous other guests were already there so she had to park near the end of the 400-foot long driveway. At the house, which was located on a hillside, the driveway was as wide as the three-stall garage and had a 25-foot parking area to the west of the garage but it narrowed into a "regular driveway" about half way up the mountain to the road. The party began at seven o'clock in the evening, and it was dark when Ms. Clarke arrived.

Ms. Clarke attested that she slipped twice before she actually fell on what she characterized as being an icy spot. Although she directs special attention to the darkened condition of the driveway, she stated in her deposition that she could see from where she fell that the driveway appeared to be icy all the way to the front sidewalk and "that only the sidewalk in front of his house didn't have any snow or ice on it." Ms. Clarke maintained that she lay on the ground for about fifteen minutes before anyone came to help her. However, when her cries for help were heard, many people came out to assist, and she was immediately taken to a hospital. As a result of the fall, Ms. Clarke's leg was broken in seven places. Treatment has included surgical intervention and may require future surgeries.

The district court issued findings in conjunction with its grant of a summary judgment. Acknowledging the prior decisions of this Court, which we shall discuss in more detail later, the trial court described Ms. Clarke as being a social guest and identified Mr. Beckwith's duty toward her as being one "not to harm the licensee willfully or wantonly." Finding that no genuine issue of material fact existed relating to willful or wanton misconduct by Mr. Beckwith, the district court granted the summary judgment.

The common-law classification of tort plaintiffs as trespassers, licensees, and invitees has deep roots in Anglo-American jurisprudence. The classifications served to measure the limits of the owner's duty according to whether the entrant was considered to be an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. As to trespassers and licensees, the owner had only a duty not to willfully or wantonly harm. As to an invitee, on the other hand, the owner had a duty to exercise reasonable care. Over the years, courts have further refined and differentiated between the three classes in order to avoid the harshness of the primary classifications. This has, of course, tended to produce unusual results in some cases.

In Yalowizer v. Husky Oil Company, 629 P.2d 465 (Wyo.1981), we declined an opportunity to depart from the use of those classifications, which were recognized in Maher v. City of Casper, 67 Wyo. 268, 219 P.2d 125 (1950). As we begin our examination of this issue, it is essential for us to acknowledge that our decisions in both Maher (two boys drowned in an abandoned quarry which had filled with water) and Yalowizer (a driver was injured when she was using an abandoned service station's driveway as a shortcut) were primarily dicta and dealt with persons who were described as being trespassers rather than as being invitees or licensees.

Our decision today was presaged by Allen v. Slim Pickens Enterprises, 777 P.2d 79 (Wyo.1989). We indicated in that case: "The key to the creation of a duty to the invitees on the premises is foreseeability." 777 P.2d at 82 (citing Becker v. Diamond Parking, Inc., 768 S.W.2d 169 (Mo.Ct.App.1989)). Continuing, we held:

The status of this visitor, except to discern that he was not a trespasser, is unimportant under these circumstances. Within the particularized facts of a general invitation in a prior year and present

Page 296

visit to the unoccupied summer cabin without advance notice, the designation of the relationship is unnecessary in assessment that no duty of care was violated. Whether to be differentiated to be a bare licensee in legal theory or a social guest, the visit of Allen was unexpected, unplanned and unprepared.

Id.

Since our decision in Yalowizer, there has been considerable development of the law in this field. Three discrete rules are applied in various jurisdictions: One grouping of jurisdictions (with some variation in some of these states over the years) continues to apply the common-law rule; a second cluster of states makes no distinction between the three categories and applies a rule of "reasonable care under the circumstances"; and the third group continues to treat trespassers as a distinct group but applies the rule of "reasonable care under the circumstances" to all others. Vitauts M. Gulbis, Annotation, Modern Status of Rules Conditioning Landowner's Liability upon Status of Injured Party as Invitee, Licensee, or Trespasser, 22 A.L.R.4 TH 294 (1983 & 1992 Supp.); 3 STUART M. SPEISER ET AL., THE AMERICAN LAW OF TORTS § 14:3 (1986).

The third rule has been ably expressed by the North Dakota Supreme Court:

In the instant case, rather than continue to predicate liability on the status of an entrant, we have decided to apply the ordinary principles of negligence to govern a landowner's conduct as to a licensee and an invitee. We do not change our rule as to trespassers. An occupier of premises must act as a reasonable man in maintaining his property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to another, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk. Having determined the judicial necessity for abandoning the use of the common law categories of licensee and invitee in premises liability cases, we have determined to do so prospectively except as to the parties in this...

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30 practice notes
  • Vega by Muniz v. Piedilato
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • June 23, 1998
    ...Hudson v. Gaitan, 675 S.W.2d 699 (Tenn.1984); Antoniewicz v. Reszcynski, 70 Wis.2d 836, 236 N.W.2d 1 (1975); Clarke v. Beckwith, 858 P.2d 293 (Wyo.1993); cf. Wood v. Camp, 284 So.2d 691 (Fla.1973) (abolishing distinction between commercial visitors and social guests but retaining the distin......
  • Self v. Queen, No. 23348
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 24, 1997
    ...Comm'rs of County of Dona Ana, 118 N.M. 134, 879 P.2d 766 (1994); Jones v. Hansen, 254 Kan. 499, 867 P.2d 303 (1994); Clarke v. Beckwith, 858 P.2d 293 (Wyo.1993); Hudson v. Gaitan, 675 S.W.2d 699 (Tenn.1984); Ragnone v. Portland School Dist. No. 1J, 291 Or. 617, 633 P.2d 1287 (1981); Poulin......
  • Nelson v. Freeland, No. 216A98.
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    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • December 31, 1998
    ...Co., 637 A.2d 1056 (R.I.1994); Hudson, 675 S.W.2d 699; Antoniewicz v. Reszcynski, 70 Wis.2d 836, 236 N.W.2d 1 (1975); Clarke v. Beckwith, 858 P.2d 293 In summation, nearly half of all jurisdictions in this country have judicially abandoned or modified the common-law trichotomy in favor of t......
  • Koenig v. Koenig, No. 07-1586.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 5, 2009
    ...Pickens, 206 W.Va. 145, 522 S.E.2d 436, 446 (1999); Antoniewicz v. Reszcynski, 70 Wis.2d 836, 236 N.W.2d 1, 11 (1975); Clarke v. Beckwith, 858 P.2d 293, 296 Still other states, including Iowa, limited the common-law system by refusing to apply the doctrine to child entrants. See Cope v. Doe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Vega by Muniz v. Piedilato
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • June 23, 1998
    ...Hudson v. Gaitan, 675 S.W.2d 699 (Tenn.1984); Antoniewicz v. Reszcynski, 70 Wis.2d 836, 236 N.W.2d 1 (1975); Clarke v. Beckwith, 858 P.2d 293 (Wyo.1993); cf. Wood v. Camp, 284 So.2d 691 (Fla.1973) (abolishing distinction between commercial visitors and social guests but retaining the distin......
  • Self v. Queen, No. 23348
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 24, 1997
    ...Comm'rs of County of Dona Ana, 118 N.M. 134, 879 P.2d 766 (1994); Jones v. Hansen, 254 Kan. 499, 867 P.2d 303 (1994); Clarke v. Beckwith, 858 P.2d 293 (Wyo.1993); Hudson v. Gaitan, 675 S.W.2d 699 (Tenn.1984); Ragnone v. Portland School Dist. No. 1J, 291 Or. 617, 633 P.2d 1287 (1981); Poulin......
  • Nelson v. Freeland, No. 216A98.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • December 31, 1998
    ...Co., 637 A.2d 1056 (R.I.1994); Hudson, 675 S.W.2d 699; Antoniewicz v. Reszcynski, 70 Wis.2d 836, 236 N.W.2d 1 (1975); Clarke v. Beckwith, 858 P.2d 293 In summation, nearly half of all jurisdictions in this country have judicially abandoned or modified the common-law trichotomy in favor of t......
  • Koenig v. Koenig, No. 07-1586.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 5, 2009
    ...Pickens, 206 W.Va. 145, 522 S.E.2d 436, 446 (1999); Antoniewicz v. Reszcynski, 70 Wis.2d 836, 236 N.W.2d 1, 11 (1975); Clarke v. Beckwith, 858 P.2d 293, 296 Still other states, including Iowa, limited the common-law system by refusing to apply the doctrine to child entrants. See Cope v. Doe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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