Law School Case Brief
O'Guin v. Bingham Cty. - 142 Idaho 49, 122 P.3d 308 (2005)
The elements of a common law negligence action are (1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual loss or damage. The distinction between trespassers, licensees and invitees is the controlling test in determining the scope and extent of the duty of care owed by landowners to entrants. A landowner's duty to a trespasser is to refrain from willful or wanton acts which might cause injury.
On July 7, 1999, Shaun and Alex O'Guin were killed while playing at the Bingham County landfill. Apparently, a section of the pit wall collapsed and crushed the children. Their older brother, Frank Jr., initially discovered their bodies at the bottom of the pit. Earlier that day, the children had been eating lunch at Ridgecrest Elementary School as part of a summer lunch program. As they started walking home, the children went through an unlocked gate at the back of the schoolyard and through a privately owned empty field. The empty field is situated between the landfill and the schoolyard. The border between the empty field and the landfill was unobstructed. At the time of the children's death, the landfill was open to the public one day a week. It was closed on the day the children were killed and no landfill employees were present on the site. The O'Guins filed an action alleging the landfill was an attractive nuisance and that the County breached certain legal duties to control access to the landfill.The appellate court agreed with the district court that the statute and regulations clearly defined the county's standard of conduct.
Did the trial court err in determining that the County's violations were not negligence per se and by applying the common law willful or wanton standard to the plaintiff's claim?
40 C.F.R. 258.35 required the county to block access to the landfill when an attendant was not on duty and it was unlawful, pursuant to Idaho Code § 39-7402(1), to fail to comply with the landfill rules. The landfill was closed and no attendant was on duty. Landfill operators had a duty not only to prevent illegal dumping and unauthorized vehicular traffic, but to control public access. The injury to the safety of the children was the type of harm the regulations were intended to prevent because the deaths related directly to control of public access and protection of human health and safety. The children were members of the class of persons the regulations were designed to protect. The regulations were sufficient to satisfy the duty element for a negligence per se action. There was no basis for an award of attorney fees to the county.
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