Dobbs v. Alabama Power Co.

Decision Date23 June 1989
Citation549 So.2d 35
PartiesJoseph G. DOBBS, Jr., and Amy Dobbs v. ALABAMA POWER COMPANY. 87-823.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Eason Mitchell, Alabaster, and Spencer Bachus, Birmingham, for appellants.

Steven F. Casey of Balch & Bingham, Birmingham, for appellee.

SHORES, Justice.

The trial court entered for the defendant, Alabama Power Company, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), after a jury had returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of $175,000. The basis for the case was a sailboat accident on Lake Logan Martin. Joseph G. Dobbs was injured when the mast of the sailboat that he and his wife were operating came into contact with high voltage power lines. Dobbs was badly shocked and has since undergone extensive surgery to his hands and eyes.

In entering the JNOV, the trial judge stated:

"1. The defendant's Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict is granted because the Court should have granted a directed verdict in favor of defendant, Alabama Power Company, at the close of all the evidence. Accordingly, judgment [is] rendered in favor of said defendant and against plaintiff and all court costs are taxed against Plaintiff.

"2. Under Rule 50(c)(1) this Court also rules on defendant's Motion for a New Trial and determines that it should not be granted, if the judgment against plaintiff notwithstanding the verdict is hereafter vacated or reversed...."

A motion for JNOV is properly granted only when the movant would have been entitled to a directed verdict. Luker v. City of Brantley, 520 So.2d 517, 521 (Ala.1987), quoting Wright v. Fountain, 454 So.2d 520 (Ala.1984).

This Court has held:

"There are only two situations in which a directed verdict is proper: (1) where there is no scintilla of evidence to support an element essential to the claim or (2) where there is no disputed issue of fact upon which reasonable men could differ. Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Ford, 406 So.2d 854, 856 (Ala.1981). A directed verdict is appropriate in the second situation only if the facts and inferences point so strongly and overwhelmingly in one party's favor that reasonable persons could only arrive at one verdict. Bickford v. International Speedway Corp., 654 F.2d 1028, 1031 (5th Cir.1981)."

Osborn v. Johns, 468 So.2d 103 (Ala.1985).

The present case is a tort action. Under Alabama law, every action in tort consists of three elements: The existence of a legal duty by defendant to plaintiff; a breach of that duty; and damage as the proximate result. Alabama Power Co. v. Guy, 281 Ala. 583, 206 So.2d 594, 599 (1967).

Alabama law has specific statutes delineating the duties placed upon a landowner whose property is used by the general public for recreational purposes. Code 1975, § 35-15-1 et seq. Sections 35-15-1 and 35-15-3 state that the only duty owed by an owner or occupant of premises to others who use the premises for the purpose of enjoying water sports or for other recreational purposes is "to refrain from willfully or maliciously causing harm."

We have considered two similar cases under the Alabama recreational use statutes. In Driskill v. Alabama Power Co., 374 So.2d 265 (Ala.1979), the plaintiffs were operating a motor boat on an Alabama Power Company reservoir in Cherokee County, Alabama. The boat ran into a submerged tree trunk, causing one of the occupants of the boat to be thrown into the water and thereby sustain injury. In approving the trial court's grant of a directed verdict in favor of Alabama Power Company, we said:

"The Company was under no duty to warn the plaintiff, an ordinary licensee, of a possible danger concerning a condition brought about by its ordinary use of its land--raising and lowering the level of the lake."

Id. at 267.

In a case where the plaintiff, riding on an inner tube pulled by a ski boat, collided with a partially submerged fence on Lake Neely Henry near Gadsden, Alabama, we stated "The licensee's entrance on the land carries with it no right to expect the land to be made safe for his reception, but he must assume the risk of whatever may be encountered.... Once he is there, the law only requires the landowner to refrain from wantonly, maliciously or intentionally injuring him; in other words, the landowner is not liable unless he does some act which goes beyond mere negligence."

Wright v. Alabama Power Co., 355 So.2d 322, 325 (Ala.1978), at 325.

Under Alabama law, even in cases where the recreational use statute is not applied, the duty owed by a landowner is determined by the status of the person entering the land. In this case, Dobbs has the status of licensee. A landowner generally owes no duty to warn a licensee of a potentially dangerous condition unless the landowner does some positive act that creates a new and hidden danger. Edwards v. City of Birmingham, 447 So.2d 704, 705 (Ala.1984).

Dobbs contends that the Alabama recreational use statutes do not apply in the present case. Dobbs claims that this case was filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1333 as a case involving ...

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  • Roberson v. Balch & Bingham, LLP
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • January 21, 2022
    ...claim fails for lacking an essential element of a tort action, i.e., a duty owed to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Dobbs v. Alabama Power Co., 549 So.2d 35, 36 (Ala. 1989) ("[U]nder Alabama law, every action in tort consists of three elements: The existence of a legal duty by defendant to plaint......
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    ...Inc. v. Brown, 569 So.2d 375, 376 (Ala.1990); Koch v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 565 So.2d 226, 228 (Ala.1990); Dobbs v. Alabama Power Co., 549 So.2d 35, 36 (Ala.1989). Therefore, we must determine whether the estate of Jackie Dale Dennis, in order to withstand Driver's motion for a direct......
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    ...Inc. v. Brown, 569 So.2d 375, 376 (Ala.1990); Koch v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 565 So.2d 226, 228 (Ala.1990); Dobbs v. Alabama Power Co., 549 So.2d 35, 36 (Ala.1989). "In reviewing a ruling on a motion for a directed verdict, this Court views all the evidence in a light most favorable to......
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