Law School Case Brief
Gilpin v. Ivy Tech State Coll. - 864 N.E.2d 399 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007)
A person entering the land of another comes onto the land as an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. The person's status on the land defines the nature of the duty the landowner owes to the visitor. A landowner owes the highest duty of care to an invitee, that duty being to exercise reasonable care for the invitee's protection while he is on the premises. Landowners owe a licensee the duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring him or acting in a manner to increase his peril. This includes the duty to warn a licensee of any latent danger on the premises of which the landowner has knowledge. Finally, the duty owed to a trespasser is the duty to merely refrain from wantonly or willfully injuring him after discovering his presence. Thus, the first step in resolving a premises liability case is to determine the plaintiff's visitor status. The visitor status then defines the duty owed from the landowner to the visitor. A person's status on the land, along with the duty owed, is a matter left for determination by the trial court, not the jury.
On July 18, 2003, Gilpin drove his adult son Joseph to the Ivy Tech campus in Indianapolis. He waited in his van while his son went into a campus building. When Joseph returned to the vehicle after registering for classes, Gilpin asked his son to show him the way to the restrooms in the main building. They walked from the parking lot to a sidewalk and down the sidewalk to a crosswalk. Loose gravel from nearby landscaping was on the sidewalk. After waiting for the traffic to pass, Gilpin stepped off the sidewalk with his left foot to cross a street. As he did, his right foot slipped on some gravel on the sidewalk. He fell into the street and suffered a severe injury to his left arm. Alleging that Ivy Tech owed him the “highest duty of care” because he was a public invitee, Gilpin sued Ivy Tech for negligence. Ivy Tech moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court granted judgment for Ivy Tech.
Did Ivy Tech owe Gilpin the “highest duty of care” owing to the fact that the latter was a public invitee?
The appellate court noted that an “invitee is a person who is invited to enter or to remain on another's land whereas a licensee is privileged to enter or remain on the land by virtue of permission or sufferance." Here, the Court held that no reasonable person could conclude Ivy Tech extended an invitation to Gilpin to use its public restrooms under these circumstances. There was no evidence Ivy Tech encouraged, desired, induced, or expected Gilpin or other members of the public at large to use its restrooms. Gilpin was not planning to pursue his own educational objectives. Gilpin's son Joseph had concluded his business with Ivy Tech for the day. There was no evidence Gilpin was entering the building to speak with Ivy Tech personnel on his son's behalf or to provide advice to his son regarding his educational opportunities at Ivy Tech. Assuming arguendo that Joseph was an invitee because he had business with Ivy Tech, the Court held that the same status will not be extended to Joseph's father, Gilpin, merely because Joseph was showing him the way to the restroom. Therefore, Gilpin was a licensee. Landowners owed a licensee the duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring him or acting in a manner to increase his peril. Gilpin was aware of the gravel on the sidewalk before he fell. He walked on the gravel over the length of the sidewalk. He was standing on gravel for 10-15 seconds before stepping off the curb. Because Gilpin was aware of the gravel, the gravel cannot be considered a latent danger about which Ivy Tech had a duty to warn him.
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