Clinkscales v. Nelson Securities, Inc., No. 03-0901.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation697 N.W.2d 836
Decision Date10 June 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-0901.
PartiesJames F. CLINKSCALES, Jr., Appellant, v. NELSON SECURITIES, INC. d/b/a The Gallery Lounge, Caroline S. Nelson and Jack D. Nelson, Appellees.

697 N.W.2d 836

James F. CLINKSCALES, Jr., Appellant,
v.
NELSON SECURITIES, INC. d/b/a The Gallery Lounge, Caroline S. Nelson and Jack D. Nelson, Appellees

No. 03-0901.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

June 10, 2005.


697 N.W.2d 839
Justin A. Teitle of Teitle Law Offices, Davenport, for appellant

Mark A. Woollums and Carrie N. Roseberry of Betty, Neuman & McMahon, L.L.P., Davenport, for appellees.

PER CURIAM.

"Danger invites rescue."1 A marine out for a drink at a Davenport bar rushed to the scene of a gas leak at a grill on the premises. While attempting to turn off two propane gas tanks, a grease fire reignited and he was badly burned. The district court dismissed the marine's negligence claim against the bar. The court held as a matter of law the marine was solely to blame for his injuries. The court of appeals affirmed. Because a jury could find the bar's negligence proximately caused the marine's rescue attempt and injuries, we reverse the district court, vacate the court of appeals, and remand for a trial on the merits.

I. Facts

Late one Friday afternoon in the summer of 2002, James Clinkscales went to The Gallery Lounge, a Davenport pub. Approximately fifty people were there. Clinkscales, an active-duty marine in town as a recruiter, stationed himself at the bar next to a blonde woman known only as "Dimples." The two began to share a pitcher of beer together.

On Fridays in the summer, The Gallery regularly grilled hamburgers outside and served them to its customers. The grill stood directly outside of the bar on a patio ten feet away from where Clinkscales and Dimples sat. Two tanks of propane gas placed underneath the grill fueled it. The grill was custom-made and large enough to grill twenty burgers at a time.

The Gallery employed Joe Moser to grill the burgers. The first batch of burgers Moser placed on the grill that evening were particularly greasy. When Moser flipped them over, a fire flared up on the grill. Moser did not consider this to be a problem. All of a sudden, however, Moser heard something abnormal — "a pop and a hiss." A ball of fire erupted underneath the grill and engulfed the propane tanks.

Caroline Nelson co-owns The Gallery with her husband and regularly works there. When the fire started Nelson was standing at the patio door. Moser told Nelson to get a fire extinguisher. Nelson and Moser testified Nelson and other Gallery employees made general announcements to the patrons to leave and then one employee called the fire department. Clinkscales testified he was alerted to the fire when he saw Nelson come into the bar looking for a fire extinguisher, but did not believe Nelson said anything to him or anybody else about what was happening.

Nelson came back outside with a fire extinguisher and gave it to a patron. The patron extinguished the flame, and Moser managed to turn the knobs on the grill to

697 N.W.2d 840
the "off" position. Moser could still smell gas escaping from the tanks, however, and Moser said aloud that he wanted to shut the tanks off. Moser pulled the grill away from a wall to access the tanks, but he found the valves were too hot to touch. There were customers in the patio and adjacent bar. Clinkscales came out to the patio and asked a man holding a fire extinguisher if anyone had turned the gas off. The man told Clinkscales the handle was too hot

Clinkscales, who had received extensive training in fire suppression in the military, recognized the situation was "very dangerous." Clinkscales took off his shirt, wrapped it around one of hands, and turned the gas off. No one asked Clinkscales to do so. He reacted instinctively:

[I]t's like running after a kid when he runs into the street, you don't think about it, that there's a car coming, you just try to grab the child, and, you know, hope for the best. You could get killed doing it, but you just do it.

As Clinkscales was turning off the gas, the fire flared up. Clinkscales was burned on his face, neck, chest, arms, and legs.

Skin hanging from his arms, Clinkscales continued his rescue efforts by helping a frightened young woman in the patio over a fence. A frequent patron of the bar, a man named Norm, took Clinkscales to the hospital just as the fire department arrived.

II. Prior Proceedings

Clinkscales sued The Gallery for negligence. He claimed The Gallery owed him a duty of care as a business invitee. Clinkscales alleged The Gallery was specifically negligent because it (1) failed to properly design, manufacture, maintain, and operate the grill; (2) did not adequately train its employees in the use and maintenance of the grill; (3) did not have enough fire-suppression equipment and did not properly use the fire extinguishers it did have; and (4) did not have emergency procedures in place necessary to protect its customers. In the alternative, Clinkscales also pled res ipsa loquitur to show general negligence. Clinkscales contended that even if he could not prove the precise cause of the mishap, the defendants had exclusive control over the instrumentalities involved in the fire.2

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted. As a matter of law the district court found employees of The Gallery told Clinkscales to evacuate the premises; there was no evidence there was imminent risk to life when he turned off the gas; and "a reasonable person would not determine that the benefits of approaching a fire outweigh the risk of being seriously burned or injured." The district court ruled the defendants were not liable because (1) Clinkscales's injuries were caused by a known and obvious danger and (2) the defendants' alleged negligence was not the proximate cause of Clinkscales's injuries. The court also concluded res ipsa loquitur was not applicable because grease fires can occur without negligence. The court of appeals affirmed. It declined to apply the rescue doctrine and held, as a matter of law, Clinkscales "suffers from a self-inflicted wound."

III. Principles of Review

Appellate review of a grant of a summary-judgment motion is for the correction

697 N.W.2d 841
of errors at law. Estate of Harris v. Papa John's Pizza, 679 N.W.2d 673, 677 (Iowa 2004). Summary judgment is proper only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of proof. Harris, 679 N.W.2d at 677. A court entertaining a motion for summary judgment must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.

Even if the facts are undisputed, summary judgment is not proper if reasonable minds could draw different inferences from them and thereby reach different conclusions. Walker Shoe Store, Inc. v. Howard's Hobby Shop, 327 N.W.2d 725, 728 (Iowa 1982). The party resisting the motion for summary judgment should be afforded every legitimate inference that can reasonably be deduced from the evidence. Cent. Nat'l. Ins. Co. v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 522 N.W.2d 39, 42 (Iowa 1994).

Two principles are especially important to our resolution of this appeal. First, we reiterate the well-settled maxim that questions of negligence or proximate cause are ordinarily for the jury — only in exceptional cases should they be decided as a matter of law. Iowa R.App. P. 6.14(6)(j); McCaull v. Universal Mfg. Co., 218 N.W.2d 592, 593 (Iowa 1974); Regan v. Denbar, Inc., 514 N.W.2d 751, 752 (Iowa Ct.App.1994). Second, a court deciding a motion for summary judgment must not weigh the evidence, but rather simply inquire whether a reasonable jury faced with the evidence presented could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Bitner v. Ottumwa Cmty. Sch. Dist., 549 N.W.2d 295, 300 (Iowa 1996). Mere skepticism of a plaintiff's claim is not a sufficient reason to prevent a jury from hearing the merits of a case.

IV. The Merits

A. The Rescue Doctrine

The rescue doctrine was forged at common law. It involves heroic people doing heroic things. The late Justice Cardozo aptly summarized the commonsense observations about human nature that led to the doctrine's widespread recognition across this nation when he wrote:

Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperiled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer. The state that leaves an opening in a bridge is liable to the child that falls into the stream, but liable also to the parent who plunges to its aid. The railroad company whose train approaches without signal is a wrongdoer toward the traveler surprised between the rails, but a wrongdoer also to the bystander who drags him from the path.... The risk of rescue, if only it be not wanton, is born of the occasion. The emergency begets the man. The wrongdoer may not have foreseen the coming of a deliverer. He is accountable as if he had.

Wagner v. Int'l Ry., 232 N.Y. 176, 133 N.E. 437, 437-38 (1921) (citations omitted). That is, those who negligently imperil life or property may not only be liable to their victims, but also to the rescuers. See generally Joel E. Smith, Annotation, Liability of One Negligently Causing Fire for Injuries Sustained by Person Other Than

697 N.W.2d 842
Firefighter in Attempt to Control Fire or to Save Life or Property, 91 A.L.R.3d 1202 (1979)

We have consistently and liberally applied the rescue doctrine in this state for over one hundred years. See, e.g., Hollingsworth v. Schminkey, 553 N.W.2d 591 (Iowa 1996); Leaders v. Dreher, 169 N.W.2d 570 (Iowa 1969); Knudsen v. Merle Hay Plaza, Inc., 160 N.W.2d 279 (Iowa 1968); Henneman v....

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43 practice notes
  • Huck v. Wyeth, Inc., No. 12–0596.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • July 11, 2014
    ...PLIVA's motion, finding that based on the record provided fact issues precluded summary judgment. Cf. Clinkscales v. Nelson Sec., Inc., 697 N.W.2d 836, 841 (Iowa 2005) (“[W]e reiterate the well-settled maxim that questions of negligence or proximate cause are ordinarily for the jury—only in......
  • Sallee v. Stewart, No. 11–0892.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 2013
    ...The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Clinkscales v. Nelson Sec., Inc., 697 N.W.2d 836, 841 (Iowa 2005). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.III. Background of Recreational Use Statutes.A.......
  • Hedlund v. State, No. 18-0567
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 28, 2019
    ...conclusions." Banwart v. 50th St. Sports, L.L.C. , 910 N.W.2d 540, 544–45 (Iowa 2018) (quoting Clinkscales v. Nelson Sec., Inc. , 697 N.W.2d 836, 841 (Iowa 2005) (per curiam)). Therefore, our review is "limited to whether a genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the dis......
  • Accurate Controls, Inc. v. Cerro Gordo County Bd., No. C 08-3021-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • June 18, 2009
    ...the Iowa Supreme Court has overruled a prior decision sub silentio on only a handful of occasions. See Clinkscales v. Nelson Sec., Inc., 697 N.W.2d 836, 842 n. 3 (Iowa 2005) (noting, "It appears we overruled Saylor [v. Parsons, 122 Iowa 679, 98 N.W. 500 (1904),] in Hollingsworth [v. Sc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
43 cases
  • Huck v. Wyeth, Inc., No. 12–0596.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • July 11, 2014
    ...PLIVA's motion, finding that based on the record provided fact issues precluded summary judgment. Cf. Clinkscales v. Nelson Sec., Inc., 697 N.W.2d 836, 841 (Iowa 2005) (“[W]e reiterate the well-settled maxim that questions of negligence or proximate cause are ordinarily for the jury—only in......
  • Sallee v. Stewart, No. 11–0892.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 2013
    ...The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Clinkscales v. Nelson Sec., Inc., 697 N.W.2d 836, 841 (Iowa 2005). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.III. Background of Recreational Use Statutes.A.......
  • Hedlund v. State, No. 18-0567
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 28, 2019
    ...conclusions." Banwart v. 50th St. Sports, L.L.C. , 910 N.W.2d 540, 544–45 (Iowa 2018) (quoting Clinkscales v. Nelson Sec., Inc. , 697 N.W.2d 836, 841 (Iowa 2005) (per curiam)). Therefore, our review is "limited to whether a genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the dis......
  • Accurate Controls, Inc. v. Cerro Gordo County Bd., No. C 08-3021-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • June 18, 2009
    ...the Iowa Supreme Court has overruled a prior decision sub silentio on only a handful of occasions. See Clinkscales v. Nelson Sec., Inc., 697 N.W.2d 836, 842 n. 3 (Iowa 2005) (noting, "It appears we overruled Saylor [v. Parsons, 122 Iowa 679, 98 N.W. 500 (1904),] in Hollingsworth [v. Sc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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