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Appellate review of a grant of a summary judgment motion is for the correction of errors at law. Summary judgment is proper only if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3). The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of proof. A court entertaining a motion for summary judgment must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Even if the facts are undisputed, summary judgment is not proper if reasonable minds could draw different inferences from them and thereby reach different conclusions. The party resisting the motion for summary judgment should be afforded every legitimate inference that can reasonably be deduced from the evidence.
A marine, James Clinkscales, out for a drink at a Davenport bar rushed to the scene of a gas leak at a grill on the premises. While attempting to turn off two propane gas tanks, a grease fire reignited and he was badly burned. The bar argued, inter alia, that its alleged negligence was not the proximate cause of Clinkscales’ injuries, and therefore, summary judgment was properly granted. The district court dismissed Clinkscales’ negligence claim against the bar.
Was summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause proper?
The record showed that customers, employees, and property of the bar were in the vicinity of the fire and subsequent gas leak. While it was undisputed that employees called the fire department and asked some patrons to evacuate, a jury could find that Clinkscales’ rescue efforts were a normal or natural reaction under the circumstances. There was evidence that no one effectively ordered Clinkscales to leave, and some evidence that the bar enlisted the help of other customers to fight the fire. Even if Clinkscales was told to leave, that would be but one fact for the jury to consider in evaluating his rescue attempt. Therefore, summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause was not proper.