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Brewer v. United States Steel Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

December 5, 2018




         The Plaintiff, Ronald Brewer, sued Defendant United States Steel Corporation for negligence after he slipped and fell inside a building on its premises. This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 59]. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is denied.


         On February 10, 2015, the Plaintiff's job as a truck driver for MDI Transportation brought him to the Defendant's premises, where he was scheduled to remove and transport an old copier machine. The Plaintiff, accompanied by a co-worker, drove onto the property and checked in with Mike Kramer, an employee of U.S. Steel in the IT department. Kramer was the Plaintiff's contact at the Defendant's facility. He authorized all the Plaintiff's pickups and deliveries and provided relevant instructions. On February 10, 2015, Kramer, driving in his own vehicle, escorted the Plaintiff to the building several miles away that housed the copier.

         As instructed by Kramer, the Plaintiff backed his truck up to the building's large overhead door. He exited the truck, walked to the back and assisted his co-worker in removing the equipment from the truck that would be necessary to complete the pickup. This included a stair walker and a roll of shrink wrap. As the Plaintiff walked into the large warehouse type building with the stair walker, he noticed that none of the lights were on. After walking about fifteen feet, he also noticed snow and ice on the ground. In fact, the Plaintiff had already walked through a section of snow with ice underneath it.[1] The Plaintiff asked Kramer if it cleared up further into the building. Kramer indicated that icy conditions existed throughout the building. The Plaintiff learned that the Defendant was not using the facility, and a pipe had burst inside the building. The Plaintiff expressed that it would not be safe to continue to retrieve the copier. Kramer and others who were on site discussed other potential options, but the Plaintiff had already decided that he would not be completing the job that day, especially since it involved bringing a heavy piece of equipment down a couple flights of stairs that was still another one hundred yards away from where he was standing.

         Having made his decision, the Plaintiff turned around and walked back toward his truck. As he walked through the section of snow, he lost his footing and fell. When asked during his deposition why he walked back through the snow, the Plaintiff replied, “we had to walk through it to get out” and there was “no other way.” (Mem. in Supp, of Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. A, Pl.'s Dep. 58, ECF No. 60-1; see also id., at 60 (“That was the only path to get back to the truck.”).) When asked why he did not ask Kramer to make the conditions safe before walking through it, the Plaintiff explained, “that little area we didn't think was dangerous enough at that time, you know. I didn't think that the whole warehouse was gonna be iced and snowed down.” (Id. at 64.) He acknowledged that Kramer had, on previous occasions, responded to his request to clear an area, such as when water was puddled on the floor. He did not ask Kramer to clear up the patch, because he was just trying to leave, and did not think it would be hazardous to walk such a short distance, especially since he had already traversed it once and not lost his footing. He also considered the fact that Kramer had not thought it appropriate to clear it up beforehand, or taken the initiative to stop them from coming into to the warehouse in the first place as other reasons for not asking Kramer to clear the patch of ice and snow to exit.[2]


         Summary judgment is proper when the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A “material fact” is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the non-movant's favor. Ault v. Speicher, 634 F.3d 942, 945 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Because the Court's jurisdiction over this case is predicated upon diversity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332, it “must apply the law of the state as it believes the highest court of the state would apply it if the issue were presently before that tribunal.” State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Pate, 275 F.3d 666, 669 (7th Cir. 2001). “When the state Supreme Court has not decided the issue, the rulings of the state intermediate appellate courts must be accorded great weight, unless there are persuasive indications that the state's highest court would decide the case differently.” Id.

         The Plaintiff's negligence claim requires him to prove that the Defendant owed him a duty and breached that duty, resulting in damages. Rhodes v. Wright, 805 N.E.2d 382, 385 (Ind. 2004). The parties do not dispute that the Plaintiff's status as a business invitee on the Defendant's premises imposed on the Defendant a duty to exercise reasonable care for the Plaintiff's protection. See Burrell v. Meads, 569 N.E.2d 637, 639-40 (Ind. 1991) (describing duties owed by landowner); Douglass v. Irvin, 549 N.E.2d 368, 369 (Ind. 1990) (holding that a property owner must maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition for business invitees).

         Indiana has borrowed from, and adopted, Section 343 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts to supply the features of that duty. It provides that a landowner is liable for personal injuries suffered by his invitee because of a condition on the land “if, but only if, ” the landowner:

(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees, and
(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect ...

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