Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., No. 96-1981

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtHARRIS; All justices concur except TERNUS, J., and McGIVERIN; LAVORATO; TERNUS; McGIVERIN
Citation581 N.W.2d 602
PartiesDonna Lou SHEETS, Appellant, v. RITT, RITT & RITT, INC., Appellee.
Decision Date01 July 1998
Docket NumberNo. 96-1981

Page 602

581 N.W.2d 602
Donna Lou SHEETS, Appellant,
v.
RITT, RITT & RITT, INC., Appellee.
No. 96-1981.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
July 1, 1998.
Rehearing Denied Aug. 11, 1998.

Page 603

David S. Wiggins of Wiggins, Anderson & Conger, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant.

John A. Pabst of Pabst Law Firm, Albia, for appellee.

Considered en banc.

HARRIS, Justice.

For many years we have questioned the soundness of the common-law distinctions in premises liability cases based on the status of the entrant to property (invitee, licensee, or trespasser). Notwithstanding growing dissatisfaction with the distinctions, especially as between an invitee and licensee, we have heretofore declined to abandon them. Our decisions make clear that our reluctance has not been because we are enamored with the common-law distinctions, but rather because the unsuccessful plaintiffs in cases challenging the rule had been accorded all advantages that flow from the most-favored status (invitee), and we have therefore felt any error was harmless. We think the time has come to abrogate the distinction between invitees and licensees. We do so now, even though the plaintiff in this case also had the advantage of being treated as an invitee. On the facts here though, we affirm the trial court judgment.

The plaintiff, Donna Sheets, was injured when she slipped and fell in the shower area of the ladies' locker room at a motel in Ottumwa, Iowa. The motel was operated by the defendant, Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc. Donna suffered serious injuries from the fall, incurring medical bills in excess of $59,000. She thereafter brought this action alleging Ritt was negligent in failing to maintain a safe shower area and failing to warn of the dangers. Ritt answered and raised a comparative fault defense.

At trial Donna objected to the court's jury instructions, asserting they were premised on the common-law distinctions. Her requested instruction would have informed the jury:

Plaintiff, Donna Sheets, claims the defendant was at fault because of defendant's negligence.

In order for the plaintiff, Donna Sheets, to recover she must prove all of the following propositions:

1. The defendant was negligent in one or more of the following ways:

Page 604

a. in failing to maintain the shower area in a safe condition;

b. in failing to warn of the dangers in the shower area.

2. The negligence was a proximate cause of the damage to plaintiff.

3. The nature and amount of damage.

If Donna Sheets has failed to prove any of these propositions, [she] is not entitled to damages.

Donna's most significant proposed instruction stated:

The defendant in this case, as the possessor of the premises where plaintiff was injured, owes a duty of reasonable care under all attendant circumstances existing at the time and place of the injury.

A violation of this law is negligence.

The court rejected the proposed instructions and instead, in its instruction 15, adopted Iowa civil jury instruction 900.1 (essentials for recovery--condition of premises--duty to invitees). The jury returned a verdict for Ritt, and the matter is before us on Donna's appeal. On a challenge to jury instructions our review is on error. Iowa R.App. P. 4; Kragel v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 537 N.W.2d 699, 702 (Iowa 1995).

I. Under present Iowa law, in order to ascertain the duty owed by landowners to entrants upon their land, courts classify entrants as either invitees, licensees, or trespassers. Paul v. Luigi's, Inc., 557 N.W.2d 895, 897 (Iowa 1997); Wieseler v. Sisters of Mercy Health Corp., 540 N.W.2d 445, 449 (Iowa 1995). An invitee is a person who enters or remains on land open to the public by invitation or permission and is owed the highest standard of care. Morgan v. Perlowski, 508 N.W.2d 724, 727 (Iowa 1993) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332 cmt. a, at 176 (1965)). "A business invitee is one 'who is invited to enter or remain on land for the purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of land.' " Konicek v. Loomis Bros., Inc., 457 N.W.2d 614, 618 (Iowa 1990) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 332, at 175). The possessor of land is under a duty to use ordinary care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition for business invitees. Id. This duty requires the possessor to use reasonable care to ascertain the actual condition of the premises. Id. The duty also requires the possessor to make the area reasonably safe or to give warning of the actual condition and risks involved. Id.

A licensee is one who may enter or remain on land only with the possessor's consent. Morgan, 508 N.W.2d at 727. For either invitees or licensees, an owner has a duty to warn of hidden dangers known by the owner to be dangerous if such danger is not known or not observable by a person exercising ordinary care. Paul, 557 N.W.2d at 897.

II. Our disenchantment with these common-law distinctions has already been mentioned. Id. (we are reluctant to establish land possessor's duty of care on the basis of status of injured party); Pottebaum v. Hinds, 347 N.W.2d 642, 645 (Iowa 1984) (same); Rosenau v. City of Estherville, 199 N.W.2d 125, 135 (Iowa 1972) (questioning future applicability of common-law categories).

Our discomfort with the common-law classifications has been shared in other jurisdictions. In 1957, by statute, England abrogated the common-law distinction between licensees and invitees and imposed upon the occupier a "common duty of care" toward all persons who lawfully enter the premises. W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 62, at 432 (5th ed.1984). Shortly thereafter, in 1959, the United States Supreme Court decided the classifications would not apply in admiralty law, stating the classifications created a "semantic morass." Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 631, 79 S.Ct. 406, 410, 3 L.Ed.2d 550, 555 (1959). In 1968 California abolished its traditional duty classification scheme of invitees, licensees, and trespassers and replaced it with ordinary negligence principles. Rowland v. Christian, 69 Cal.2d 108, 70 Cal.Rptr. 97, 443 P.2d 561, 568-69 (1968).

A number of jurisdictions have followed California, abandoning all classifications, including that of trespasser. See Smith v. Arbaugh's Restaurant, Inc., 469 F.2d 97 (D.C.Cir.1972); Webb v. City & Borough of Sitka, 561 P.2d 731 (Alaska 1977); Mile High

Page 605

Fence Co. v. Radovich, 175 Colo. 537, 489 P.2d 308 (1971); 1 Pickard v. City & County of Honolulu, 51 Haw. 134, 452 P.2d 445 (1969); Cope v. Doe, 102 Ill.2d 278, 80 Ill.Dec. 40, 464 N.E.2d 1023 (1984) (only with regard to child entrants); Cates v. Beauregard Elec. Coop., Inc., 328 So.2d 367 (La.1976); Limberhand v. Big Ditch Co., 218 Mont. 132, 706 P.2d 491 (1985); Moody v. Manny's Auto Repair, 110 Nev. 320, 871 P.2d 935 (1994); Ouellette v. Blanchard, 116 N.H. 552, 364 A.2d 631 (1976); Basso v. Miller, 40 N.Y.2d 233, 386 N.Y.S.2d 564, 352 N.E.2d 868 (1976); Mariorenzi v. Joseph...

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30 practice notes
  • Nelson v. Freeland, No. 216A98.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • December 31, 1998
    ...129 Ill.App.3d 208, 84 Ill.Dec. 411, 472 N.E.2d 161 (1984) (abolishing with respect to children only); Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., 581 N.W.2d 602 (Iowa 1998); Cates v. Beauregard Elec. Co-op., Inc., 328 So.2d 367 (La.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 833, 97 S.Ct. 97, 50 L.Ed.2d 98 (1976); L......
  • Koenig v. Koenig, No. 07-1586.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 5, 2009
    ...(Iowa 1984) (same). The question of the continued validity of the trichotomy was squarely raised in Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., 581 N.W.2d 602 (Iowa 1998). In Sheets, the plaintiff sued the operators of a motel after she slipped and fell in the shower area of the ladies' locker room.......
  • Mallet v. Pickens, No. 25807.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 21, 1999
    ...under which the injured party entered the premises, and the normal use made of the premises, see Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., 581 N.W.2d 602, 606 (1998); Heins v. Webster Co., 250 Neb. at 760-61, 552 N.W.2d at We hold that, in determining whether a defendant in a premises liability ca......
  • Sallee v. Stewart, No. 11–0892.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 2013
    ...Church]. We have recognized these distinctions in our cases. See Koenig, 766 N.W.2d at 638;Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., 581 N.W.2d 602, 604 (Iowa 1998), abrogated on other grounds by Koenig, 766 N.W.2d at 643–45. Potential liability was a disincentive for landowners to make their land......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Nelson v. Freeland, No. 216A98.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • December 31, 1998
    ...129 Ill.App.3d 208, 84 Ill.Dec. 411, 472 N.E.2d 161 (1984) (abolishing with respect to children only); Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., 581 N.W.2d 602 (Iowa 1998); Cates v. Beauregard Elec. Co-op., Inc., 328 So.2d 367 (La.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 833, 97 S.Ct. 97, 50 L.Ed.2d 98 (1976); L......
  • Koenig v. Koenig, No. 07-1586.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 5, 2009
    ...(Iowa 1984) (same). The question of the continued validity of the trichotomy was squarely raised in Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., 581 N.W.2d 602 (Iowa 1998). In Sheets, the plaintiff sued the operators of a motel after she slipped and fell in the shower area of the ladies' locker room.......
  • Mallet v. Pickens, No. 25807.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 21, 1999
    ...under which the injured party entered the premises, and the normal use made of the premises, see Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., 581 N.W.2d 602, 606 (1998); Heins v. Webster Co., 250 Neb. at 760-61, 552 N.W.2d at We hold that, in determining whether a defendant in a premises liability ca......
  • Sallee v. Stewart, No. 11–0892.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 2013
    ...Church]. We have recognized these distinctions in our cases. See Koenig, 766 N.W.2d at 638;Sheets v. Ritt, Ritt & Ritt, Inc., 581 N.W.2d 602, 604 (Iowa 1998), abrogated on other grounds by Koenig, 766 N.W.2d at 643–45. Potential liability was a disincentive for landowners to make their land......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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