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Law School Case Brief

Basso v. Miller - 40 N.Y.2d 233, 386 N.Y.S.2d 564, 352 N.E.2d 868 (1976)


A landowner must act as a reasonable man in maintaining his property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk. 


Shawcross, a patron, walked off the main trail up the hillside and fell into a 40-foot crevice, where he remained until rescued about four and a half hours later. Another customer, 17-year-old Frederick Coutant, after hearing of the accident, went down into the hamlet of Cragsmoor and told "a couple of people" about it, among them the plaintiff Basso and defendant Miller. These two, riding on Miller's motorcycle, proceeded up to Ice Caves Mountain. As the motorcycle approached a curve, plaintiff testified that it hit a series of holes, went out of control, slipped from one side of the road to the other and threw both driver and passenger out onto rocks. Plaintiff testified that he had been a summer resident of Cragsmoor for the past 16 years, had been to Ice Caves Mountain several times, that he had a 1972 season's pass but had been there only once before during that summer. The court charged the jury to the effect that the plaintiff's status on the mountain was determinative of the duty of care owed to him by the defendant Ice Caves Mountain. Defendants appealed the decision that the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department (New York) entered in favor of plaintiff Basso.


Did the trial court erroneously charge the jury that if plaintiff was held to be a licensee or social guest in defendants' park, then defendants' duty of care would be to warn of dangerous conditions?




The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the court should abandon the classification of plaintiffs in regard to landowner liability and adopt a single standard of reasonable care under the circumstances whereby foreseeability would be the measure of liability. The jury could properly have found that Basso was a public invitee in that he presented himself to the rescuers and was enlisted in aid of their rescue operation. In such circumstances, the property owner owed Basso a duty to keep the premises reasonably safe for his use. Thus, it was a question of fact, properly resolvable by the jury, whether the road was maintained in a reasonably safe condition. But it is not a proper jury function to determine the rules or the duties owed by the possessor toward others or which the injured person owed to himself to save himself from harm. Thus, the trial court was directed to apply the new standard to the case on remand.

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