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Williams v. Plains Tire & Battery Co., Inc.

Supreme Court of Wyoming

November 17, 2017

CINDY WILLIAMS and WILLIAM WILLIAMS, Appellants (Plaintiffs),
v.
PLAINS TIRE & BATTERY CO., INC., Appellee (Defendants).

         Appeal from the District Court of Uinta County The Honorable Joseph B. Bluemel, Judge

          Representing Appellants: Richard H. Honaker, Honaker Law Offices, LC, Rock Springs, Wyoming; Robert L. Stepans and Ryan R. Shaffer, Meyer, Shaffer & Stepans, PLLP, Missoula, Montana. Argument by Mr. Shaffer.

          Representing Appellee: Bruce C. Burt, Law Office of Bruce C. Burt, Midvale, Utah.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          DAVIS, Justice.

         [¶1] Cindy Williams was injured when she slipped and fell outside a store operated by Plains Tire & Battery, Co. Inc. (Plains) in Evanston, Wyoming. She filed a complaint alleging that Plains was negligent in failing to maintain the area in a reasonably safe condition. Her husband, William Williams, filed a loss of consortium claim. Plains filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted, finding that the Williams failed to present a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Plains breached a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition. We reverse and remand.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] The primary issue for our determination is whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment for Plains.

         FACTS

         [¶3] On September 27, 2010, Mrs. Williams and her brother, Wayne Campbell, took the Williams' trailer to a store operated by Plains in Evanston, Wyoming for a repair. They entered the building through a side door that led into the repair shop and found their way to the front office. After arranging for the repair, they left the same way they had come.

         [¶4] They returned to the store that afternoon to pick up the trailer. They again entered the building through the side door and made their way to the front office. Mrs. Williams paid for the repairs, and they left the store, this time using the main customer door. They turned left and headed across the front of the building to the location where the trailer was parked on the side of the building.

         [¶5] Photographs of the area show what appears to be an asphalt parking area in the front and on the side of the building and a narrow gravel strip running along the side of the building between the asphalt and the building. Mrs. Williams claims that as she stepped off the asphalt onto the gravel, she slipped and fell. Mr. Campbell caught her, but it was apparent that she had broken a bone in her leg. Doctors subsequently found that Mrs. Williams had suffered a compound fracture of her left ankle.

         [¶6] On June 27, 2013, Mrs. Williams filed a complaint against Plains, alleging that it breached its duty of ordinary care to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition for members of the public. More specifically, she asserted that Plains allowed an unnatural accumulation of gravel to develop that created a slippery condition that in turn caused her fall. She sought damages, including past and future medical expenses and loss of earning capacity.

         [¶7] Plains answered the complaint, denying that it was negligent. Subsequently, Mrs. Williams filed an amended complaint that named her husband as a co-plaintiff and alleged a loss of consortium claim on his behalf. Plains filed an answer denying the claims in the amended complaint.

         [¶8] On October 3, 2016, Plains filed a motion for summary judgment. Citing extensively from Mrs. Williams' and Mr. Campbell's deposition testimony, Plains asserted there was no evidence showing why Mrs. Williams fell or that the rocks or gravel was an "unnatural accumulation " Plains pointed to Mrs. Williams' deposition testimony to the effect that she could not remember where, how or why she fell. Absent evidence showing how the fall occurred, Plains contended, the Williams could not establish that a duty was owed, and therefore Plains was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         [¶9] The Williams responded, arguing that the gravel area where Mrs. Williams fell was an artificial, man-made condition, and that Plains had a duty to its customers to exercise ordinary care to maintain the area in a reasonably safe condition to protect them from foreseeable harm. They asserted that Plains breached its duty by failing to maintain the area in a reasonably safe condition.

         [¶10] In support of their argument, the Williams attached excerpts of deposition testimony, interrogatory responses, photographs, the affidavit and report of an expert witness, and an interview and accident report of Plains' store manager. In accordance with W.R.C.P. 56.1, the Williams filed a statement of material facts precluding summary judgment, which is a useful summary of their contentions.[1] Among the facts alleged to be disputed in the statement were the following:

• When Mrs. Williams and Mr. Campbell arrived at Plains' store to pick up the trailer, it was parked on the west side of the property;
• Mr. Campbell parked his truck near the trailer on the west side of the property;
• When Mrs. Williams and Mr. Campbell left the building after paying for the repairs, they walked along the edge of the building toward the trailer and the unpaved, gravel slope;
• Mrs. Williams fell when she stepped onto the gravel slope;
• The gravel slope on Plains' property was created to facilitate drainage ...

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