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John Stem v. Wesley C. Prouty

March 5, 2012

JOHN STEM, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WESLEY C. PROUTY,
DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
AND
CITY OF GARDEN CITY, IDAHO,
DEFENDANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Michael R. McLaughlin, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: W. Jones, Justice

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

2012 Opinion No. 47

The decision of the district court is affirmed.

I. NATURE OF THE CASE

This appeal involves a negligence claim arising out of a forklift accident. Appellant, John Stem, was helping to load a forklift at his place of work when another employee backed the forklift over a water meter cover which broke under the weight of the forklift. Consequently, the forklift toppled and pinned Stem to the ground, resulting in severe injuries and the amputation of his right leg. Stem sued Respondent, Wesley C. Prouty, the owner and landlord of the property where the accident occurred, for negligence under a theory of premises liability for failing to keep the premises safe. Stem alleges that the water meter cover was a light duty cover and was inadequate to support heavy duty vehicles such as forklifts. Stem amended his Complaint to include a negligence per se claim against Prouty for failing to obtain a building permit in violation of city and state codes, which he argues would have likely led to the discovery of the defective water meter cover. The district court granted Prouty's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, dismissing the negligence claim based on premises liability. Prouty filed a second Motion for Summary Judgment on the negligence per se claim which was originally denied by the court. Then, upon Motion for Reconsideration, the court granted Prouty summary judgment, dismissing the negligence per se claim. Stem now appeals from the court's Final Judgment dismissing all negligence claims against Prouty.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Respondent, Wesley C. Prouty, is the owner of real property located at 4684-4688 Chinden Boulevard, (the "Premises"), in Garden City, Idaho which includes a building containing three rental units. Prouty uses one rental space to operate his business, Intermountain Interiors, and leases the other two rental units to two other commercial tenants, Extreme Sports and Custom Rock Tops, Inc. The Premises also include a loading area where forklifts are regularly used, and several water meter covers, owned by the City of Garden City, are located on the property.

Appellant, John Stem, was an employee of Custom Rock Tops, a granite installation business. On November 29, 2006, Stem was helping to unload a slab of granite from a delivery truck while another employee of Custom Rock Tops operated the forklift. Stem's co-employee backed the forklift over a water meter cover which broke under the weight of the forklift. The forklift toppled over, pinning Stem's right leg to the ground. Stem suffered severe injuries which eventually led to the amputation of his right leg below the knee.

Stem sued Prouty for negligence under a theory of premises liability. Stem alleged that the shattered water meter cover was inadequate for the area because it was a light duty cover and thus unable to withstand the weight of heavy forklifts. Stem argued that the water meter cover should have been a heavy duty cover, capable of withstanding 16,000 pounds, as opposed to a light duty cover which is capable of supporting only 2,000 pounds. Stem alleged that Prouty negligently failed to make the premises safe and failed to warn Stem about concealed defects on the property that Prouty knew about or should have known about upon reasonable investigation.

Stem also sued the City of Garden City who owned and maintained the water meter lid for negligently maintaining the light duty water meter cover in an area with frequent forklift use, arguing that the city should have replaced the water meter cover with an adequate heavy duty cover. The district court dismissed the claim against the city with prejudice, based on the parties' stipulation.

Prouty filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment to dismiss the complaint against him, arguing that he had no duty to warn Stem about the water meter cover because he had no knowledge and had no reason to know that the water meter cover was defective. The district court granted Prouty summary judgment, finding that although Prouty owed Stem a duty as an invitee to keep the premises reasonably safe and warn him of any concealed dangers, Stem failed to establish that Prouty breached such a duty. Specifically, the lower court found that Stem failed to show that Prouty knew, or could have known upon reasonable examination, that the water meter cover was defective upon reasonable investigation. The court allowed Stem to amend his Complaint to include a claim of negligence per se against Prouty for failing to obtain a building permit in violation of Garden City Code sections 6-2-9 and 6-2-17, and Idaho Code section 39-41-11. Stem argued that had Prouty obtained a building permit when he added a third overhead door to improve forklift access, a site inspection would have been performed, revealing the defective water meter cover.

Prouty filed a second Motion for Summary Judgment to dismiss Stem's negligence per se claim, arguing that the addition of a third overhead door did not materially change the use of the Premises and that a site inspection was not required under the building codes. Stem filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment against Prouty, arguing that Prouty's violation of the building codes established negligence per se. However, the district court denied summary judgment, finding a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding "whether site engineering would have been performed in conjunction with the permitting process." Prouty filed a motion to reconsider the lower court's ruling, arguing that because the city ordinances do not require site engineering for every building permit, Stem cannot prove that failing to obtain a building permit would have led to a site engineering inspection which would have discovered the defective water cover lid. In granting Prouty's Motion for Reconsideration and ordering summary judgment in favor of Prouty, the court explained that because site ...


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