Wood v. Mercedes-Benz of Okla. City, Case Number: 108555

Decision Date16 July 2014
Docket NumberCase Number: 108555
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court
PartiesERICA WOOD, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MERCEDES-BENZ OF OKLAHOMA CITY, Defendant-Appellee.

2014 OK 68

ERICA WOOD, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MERCEDES-BENZ OF OKLAHOMA CITY, Defendant-Appellee.

Case Number: 108555

SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA

Decided: July 16, 2014


NOTICE: THIS OPINION HAS NOT BEEN RELEASED FOR PUBLICATION. UNTIL RELEASED, IT IS SUBJECT TO REVISION OR WITHDRAWAL.
CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS, DIVISION I, ON APPEAL
FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY,
STATE OF OKLAHOMA, HONORABLE DANIEL L. OWENS

¶0 Plaintiff brought suit against Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City for injuries she suffered after she slipped and fell on ice that had accumulated on sidewalks, pavement, and grass surrounding the Defendant's automobile dealership. The icy conditions were caused by Defendant's sprinkler system which activated during freezing temperatures. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. Plaintiff petitioned this Court for review of the decision. We granted certiorari and conclude summary judgment was improper.

COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS' OPINION VACATED;
DISTRICT COURT'S JUDGMENT REVERSED; MATTER
REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

Thomas K. Ventura, Law Offices of Daniel M. Davis, Oklahoma City, OK, for Plaintiff-Appellant
Rodney Ramsey, Michael Gray, Ramsey and Gray, P.C., Oklahoma City, OK, for Defendant-Appellee

GURICH, J.

Facts & Procedural History

¶1Erica Wood was employed by Ned's Catering, Inc. On March 8, 2008, Wood reported to Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City to assist with a catered event at the car dealer's facility. Upon arriving at the dealership, Wood drove around the parking lot searching for a place to park her vehicle. Wood noticed ice on the grass, pavement, and sidewalks surrounding the Mercedes-Benz facility. Wood testified in her deposition that "[t]he whole building was covered in ice, all the way around, all the sidewalks."1 Although the nighttime temperatures had been freezing, precipitation was not a factor in creating the icy conditions, and Wood did not encounter any ice on the roads while driving to the dealership. A sprinkler system, which had been serviced the day before, activated overnight, causing ice to cover surfaces throughout the entire property of the dealership.

¶2 After parking her car, Wood walked to the east entrance of the dealership. To reach the door, Wood had to cross grass and a sidewalk that were coated with ice. Wood was wearing common "food industry" non-slip shoes and claimed she was "very careful as she walked in." After entering the building, Wood was unable to locate her supervisor at Ned's Catering. She proceeded back outside to retrieve a cell phone from her vehicle to contact the supervisor.2 Wood testified that there was "an incline on the east side, on the grass, [like] a little hill" outside the entrance.3 Wood "knew . . . it was important to be careful" because she had observed ice covering the entire area around the entrance and "honestly believe[d] [she] was as careful as [she] could be" traversing the ice.4Nevertheless, Wood alleged she slipped on the ice, fell flat on her back, and sustained injuries. Subsequently, Wood discussed the accident with an employee of the dealership who acknowledged, "[y]eah, I should have [put salt down] when I got here."5

¶3 Wood sued Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City, alleging negligence based on the company's failure to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition. Mercedes-Benz denied liability and later filed a motion for summary judgment. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the dealership without specifying a basis for its decision. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, holding Mercedes-Benz owed no legal duty because "Wood readily acknowledges the ice presented a known danger." Wood sought review in this Court, and we granted certiorari to address the propriety of summary judgment.

Standard of Review

¶4 This appeal stems from a grant of summary judgment, which calls for de novo review. Carmichael v. Beller, 1996 OK 48, ¶ 2, 914 P.2d 1051, 1053. Under the de novo standard, this Court is afforded "plenary, independent, and non-deferential authority to examine the issues presented." Harmon v. Cradduck, 2012 OK 80, ¶ 10, 286 P.3d 643, 648. When examining an order sustaining summary judgment, this Court must determine whether the record reveals disputed material facts. Sheffer v. Carolina Forge Co., L.L.C., 2013 OK 48, ¶ 11, 306 P.3d 544, 548. Even when basic facts are undisputed, motions for summary judgment should be denied, if from the evidence, reasonable persons might reach different inferences or conclusions. Id. All facts and inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the party opposing summary adjudication. Id.

Analysis

¶5 Traditionally, in premises liability cases we have applied the common law's tripartite classification system for assessing landowner liability for injuries sustained on the property. The initial determination to be resolved in these cases has been the "entrant's status-based classification under traditional common law terms--trespasser, licensee or invitee." Scott v. Archon Group, L.P., 2008 OK 45, ¶ 18, 191 P.3d 1207, 1211. We held that a property owner, as an invitor, owes the highest duty of care to an invitee.6 Pickens v. Tulsa Metro. Ministry, 1997 OK 152, ¶ 10, 951 P.2d 1079, 1084. Our prior opinions obligate a landowner to "exercise reasonable care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn [an invitee] of conditions which [are] in the nature of hidden dangers, traps, snares or pitfalls." Martin v. Aramark Services, Inc., 2004 OK 38, ¶ 5, 92 P.3d 96, 97.

¶6 Our opinions have generally eliminated a landowner's duty to protect a third-party for "dangers so 'open and obvious' as to reasonably expect others to detect them for themselves." Williams v. Tulsa Motels, 1998 OK 42, ¶ 6,958 P.2d 1282, 1284. These cases have reasoned that an open and obvious hazard relates directly to the foreseeability of a danger, and therefore, affects a landowner's duty. See, e.g., Katning v. Melvin Simon & Associates, Inc., 1994 OK 68, ¶ 10, 876, P.2d 239, 240.

¶7 However the open and obvious doctrine is not absolute under our case law. For claims predicated on negligence, the threshold question is the existence of a duty. Miller v. David Grace, Inc., 2009 OK 49, ¶ 11, 212 P.3d 1223, 1227. Whether a duty existed is a question of law. Id. The relevant inquiry for assessing the existence of a duty in negligence cases was described as follows:

One of the most important considerations in establishing a duty is foreseeability. Foreseeability is critical as it determines (1) to whom a duty is owed and (2) the extent of the duty. A defendant owes a duty of care only to foreseeable plaintiffs. As for the extent of the duty, it too is determined in great part by the foreseeability of the injury. Whenever the circumstances attending a situation are such that an ordinarily prudent person could reasonably apprehend that, as the natural and probable consequences of his act, another person will be in danger of receiving an injury, a duty to exercise ordinary care to prevent such injury arises.

Weldon v. Dunn, 1998 OK 80, ¶ 11, 962 P.2d 1273, 1276 (citations omitted). Applying the foreseeability test in a premises liability case, we explained that a landowner "does have a duty to exercise ordinary care to prevent injury to another whenever the circumstances are such that the owner, as an ordinary prudent person, could reasonably foresee that another will be in danger of injury as a probable consequence of the owner's actions." Brown v. Alliance Real Estate Group, 1999 OK 7, ¶ 6, 976 P.2d 1043, 1045 (citation omitted and emphasis added).

¶8 More specifically, we have rejected the open and obvious doctrine for a hazardous accumulation of ice, caused or enhanced by a landowner, and determined the creation of such a dangerous condition would impose a legal duty on the owner to exercise care for the protection of third parties. Krokowski v. Henderson Nat. Corp., 1996 OK 57, ¶¶ 7-8,917 P.2d 8, 11.7 In Krokowski, an apartment tenant slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk while walking from the parking lot to his apartment. Id. ¶ 2, 917 P.2d at 10. The tenant claimed the landlord had installed a drain pipe in such a way that, when it rained, water would unnaturally pool around the pipe. Id. ¶ 1, 917 P.2d at 11. Additionally, the tenant presented evidence that the pooling caused a hazard greater than what was normally present when natural freezing conditions occurred. Id. ¶ 7, 917 P.2d at 11. We found that evidence presented to the trial court could show that the condition "causing the tenant's injury may have resulted from an increased natural hazard brought about by the landlord's placement of the drain pipe." Id. "Because reasonable people could differ on whether the [tenant's] fall was caused by a natural accumulation of ice or by an increase in the natural hazard caused by the placement of the drain pipe," summary judgment was improper. Id. ¶ 8, 917 P.2d at 11.

¶9 We agree with Wood that under...

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  • Wood v. Mercedes-Benz of Okla. City
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • July 16, 2014
    ...P.3d 4572014 OK 68Erica WOOD, Plaintiff–Appellantv.MERCEDES–BENZ OF OKLAHOMA CITY, Defendant–Appellee.No. 108555.Supreme Court of Oklahoma.July 16, 2014.Rehearing Denied Sept. 22, 2014.Thomas K. Ventura, Law Offices of Daniel M. Davis, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff–Appellant.Rodney......

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