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A cause of action for negligence requires the plaintiff to establish (1) the existence of a duty owed, (2) breach of that duty, (3) a resulting injury, and (4) a proximate cause between the breach and the injury. The threshold determination of whether the defendant owes a duty to the plaintiff is a question of law.
A 14-year-old student was injured during a school field trip at a nature walk zoo. The student’s parents instituted the present suit, seeking damages from the school district, the teachers who accompanied the students, the zoo, and the zoo's general manager. The trial court held that the student was a licensee at the time of his injury and that he was 65 percent at fault, the zoo 25 percent at fault, and the school district 10 percent at fault. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the judgment, holding that the zoo owed a duty of care to the student regardless of his status on the property, that the student did not assume the risk, that the trial court did not comment on the evidence, that the jury was properly instructed, and that a mistrial was not warranted. The plaintiffs sought review of the decision.
Did the zoo owe a duty of reasonable care to the student, thereby rendering the zoo liable for the injuries sustained by the student during the school field trip?
The court held that the zoo did not owe a duty of reasonable care and declined to depart from the common law duties owed to invitees, licensees, and trespassers and that the jury's finding that the student was a licensee at the cliff conflicted with its finding that the zoo was partially at fault for his injuries. Further, the student's conduct constituted implied primary assumption of the risk because there was no evidence that he did not know the rock outcropping was dangerous. The student's knowledge of the risk barred any liability on the part of the zoo. In addition, duties to invitees existed only when an individual was on the physical plot of land within the area of invitation. The rules of contributory fault applied. Accordingly, the court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for a new trial.