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Forklift fracas: Was store to blame?

Forklift fracas: Was store to blame?

July 25
09:11 2019

Forklift fracas: Was store to blame?

On April 12, 2016, Billy Miller filed a petition alleging that he was injured on or about October 9, 2015, when a vehicle driven by Lance Carruth struck him in the parking lot of a Lowe’s store as he was walking out of the store. Miller named Carruth and Carruth’s insurer, Shelter Insurance Company, as defendants.

On June 2, 2016, Miller filed a supplemental and amending petition against Lowe’s alleging that his injuries were caused by the fault and negligence of a Lowe’s employee, including “failing to warn,” “failing to keep a proper lookout,” and “failure to use reasonable care and caution.”

On March 8, 2017, the court dismissed Miller’s claims against Carruth and Shelter, pursuant to a joint motion by the parties.

Lowe’s filed a motion for summary judgment on June 15, 2017, seeking the dismissal of Miller’s claims. It argued that Miller would not be able to prove that Lowe’s breached a duty or that any alleged breach of duty was a cause-in-fact of the accident. Specifically, Lowe’s argued that, on the day of the accident, Carruth “pulled [his] vehicle in front of the contractor entrance of Lowe’s. As he parked his vehicle, a forklift approached and needed room to get around Mr. Carruth’s vehicle. Lowe’s anticipates argument in opposition to this Motion that the operator of the forklift, David Fontenot, signaled Mr. Carruth to reverse. That issue is not material. There is no dispute that Lance Carruth checked his mirrors prior to reversing and was looking towards the back of his vehicle at all times while proceeding in reverse. Carruth was not looking at any Lowe’s employee and he was not relying on any indication from a Lowe’s employee that the path was clear to proceed in reverse.”

Therefore, according to Lowe’s, Carruth “assumed the risk of potentially harming a customer by looking backward and proceeding in reverse,” and summary judgment was appropriate. On November 13, 2017, the court granted Lowe’s motion and dismissed Miller’s claims against it. Miller appealed.

On appeal, the court noted that the trial court found that Lowe’s owed no duty of care to Miller but pointed out that Lowe’s motion for summary judgment did not raise the issues of whether Lowe’s owed a duty to Miller or whether the scope of any duty owed by Lowe’s encompassed the risk of harm at issue. Therefore, the trial court erred by ruling on the issue of duty, which was not properly before it.

Lowe’s argued that Carruth’s deposition testimony conclusively established that any breach of duty on the part of Lowe’s could not be a cause-in-fact of Miller’s injuries. The court disagreed, stating that Carruth’s testimony could lead a reasonable fact finder to conclude that Carruth’s decision to reverse his vehicle was based on the actions of the Lowe’s employees; and but for their actions, the accident would not have occurred. Further, while Carruth testified that the Lowe’s forklift driver and flagman did not signal to him that it was safe to reverse his vehicle and he did not rely on the Lowe’s employees while backing up, a reasonable fact finder could conclude that the Lowe’s employees’ failure to take more action in directing Carruth while his vehicle was in reverse, after requiring him to move, was a cause-in-fact of the accident. Therefore, the court found that material issues of fact existed concerning whether Lowe’s actions or inactions were a cause-in-fact of the accident, and summary judgment was inappropriate.

The trial court’s rendering of summary judgment in favor of Lowe’s was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.

Miller v. Shelter Insurance Company et al.-Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit-January 30, 2019-CA 18-216.

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