Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar and Grill, Inc.

The concept of foreseeability and its application to both the duty and proximate cause elements of negligence has flummoxed law students and practitioners alike since the heady days of Justice Cardozo and Palsgraf.  The Indiana Supreme Court recently provided much-needed clarity to the issue in the case of Goodwin v. Yeakle's Sports Bar and Grill, Inc.  No. 27S02–1510–CT–627, slip op. at 8–11 (Ind. Oct. 26, 2016). In addition, the case also provides clarification to the liability of premises owners for the criminal activity of third parties.

In affirming summary judgment in favor of the sports bar, the Supreme Court first interpreted the requirement of foreseeability within the duty element of negligence to require a general analysis of the broad type of plaintiff and harm involved without regard to the facts of the actual occurrence.  The foreseeability component of the duty analysis is a slightly different inquiry than the foreseeability component of proximate cause.  For a duty to exist, there must be "some probability or likelihood of harm that is serious enough to induce a reasonable person to take precautions to avoid it."  The Court then reaffirmed the usefulness of the 'totality of the circumstances' test as a tool in conducting the more detailed and fact-sensitive inquiry into the foreseeability component of proximate cause.

Regarding the issue of premises liability for the criminal actions of third parties, the court held that the bar owner did not owe its patrons a duty of protection because the bar owner had no reason to routinely contemplate that one bar patron might suddenly shoot another.

As a whole, this case requires that plaintiffs in negligence cases show that the likelihood of the harm they suffered was serious enough to induce a reasonable person to avoid it.  Otherwise, the defendant may be entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Read more about this article from the Indiana Supreme Court

Filed Under: Trial Practice

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