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Walters v. JS Aviation, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 7, 2017

Carol Walters, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
JS Aviation, Inc. d/b/a Eagle Aircraft, Appellee-Defendant

         Appeal from the Porter Superior Court The Honorable Mary R. Harper, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 64D05-1410-CT-8841

          Attorney for Appellant Michael E. Polen, Jr. Dyer, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Douglas B. Bates Chelsea R. Stanley Jeffersonville, Indiana Zachary M. VanVactor Louisville, Kentucky

          Altice, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Carol Walters attended an open house at JS Aviation, Inc. d/b/a Eagle Aircraft (JS Aviation) and fell as she walked through a doorway from the pilot's lounge to the hangar. Just after the threshold was a five-and-one-quarter inch step down into the hangar that she did not notice. Walters filed suit against JS Aviation for injuries resulting from her fall, and JS Aviation sought summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, Walters argues that summary judgment was improperly granted.

         [¶2] We reverse and remand.

         Facts & Procedural History

         [¶3] JS Aviation operates a flight school at the Porter County Regional Airport, which Walters's husband attended. On the morning of April 26, 2014, Walters, her husband, and her seven-year-old grandson arrived early at JS Aviation for an open house. They entered at the front of the pilot's lounge. On the other side of the lounge was the entrance to the hangar through a set of double doors. These doors were usually kept closed but were opened wide into the lounge that day for the event. When the doors were open like this, it was customary for JS Aviation to place chairs in front of the doors with signs on them warning people to watch their step. Because Walters arrived to the event early, the chairs were not in place yet.

         [¶4] Shortly after their arrival, Walters's grandson saw a plane in the hangar and walked in that direction. The hangar was brightly lit, while the lounge was much more dim. Walters followed a few steps behind her grandson as she looked straight ahead toward him and the plane. She did not notice that there was a step down into the hangar. Nor did she see warning signs on one of the opened doors and on the floor. As she passed through the doorway, Walters missed the step down and fell.[1] Walters acknowledged that if she had looked down at that exact moment, she would have seen the step. Walters, however, perceived the floor surface as "one flat level" extending from the lounge into the hanger. Appellant's Appendix at 134.

         [¶5] The step down to the hangar is five-and-one-quarter inches and occurs within a few inches of the threshold on the hangar-side of the doors. Facing up on the floor, just before the step, is a red sign with white letters stating:

!!!CAUTION!!!
WATCH YOUR ...

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