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In general, the possibility of a sudden gust of wind, particularly in Wyoming, is an obvious danger foreseeable to anyone. A plaintiff is in a superior position to protect against hazards caused by wind at the moment it is encountered. A proprietor does not owe a duty of care to invitees to prevent the natural consequences of wind on his premises where he has not created or aggravated the naturally existing condition. However, a proprietor's affirmative action in dealing with a force of nature, such as wind, may alter the situation and give rise to the existence of a duty of care. In such an instance, the equities shift. The proprietor owes a duty to his business invitees to maintain his premises in a reasonably safe condition. If the defendant creates the hazard, then it is within the defendant's control and he is in a better position to foresee and prevent injuries resulting from the hazard.
Jeanne Miles, age seventy-five, was opening the front door of a restaurant when the wind forcefully caught the door. A sign posted on the door instructed: "Please Hold Door Tight Due to Wind." Mrs. Miles claimed she did what the sign instructed her to do. The force of the wind on the door caused her to fall onto the concrete walkway, breaking her hip. In her personal injury action against VI-Doug, Incorporated, a Wyoming corporation doing business as Village Inn Restaurant, Mrs. Miles alleged this event was caused by VI-Doug's failure to provide a reasonably safe entryway for its patrons. VI-Doug moved for summary judgment, contending, just as a restaurant does not owe a duty to protect its patrons from the effects of natural accumulations of snow and ice on its premises, it does not owe a duty to protect them from the effects of naturally occurring wind on its premises. In addition to disputing application of the "open-and-obvious-danger" exception in the context of wind, Mrs. Miles contended the sign instructing patrons to tightly hold the door also violated VI-Doug's duty to maintain the restaurant's premises in a reasonably safe condition. Simply stated, Mrs. Miles claimed the sign as worded, if heeded by a patron, created a hazardous condition.
The district court ruled, first, that the open-and-obvious-danger exception applies to naturally occurring forces of wind just as it does to natural accumulations of snow and ice. Secondly, it determined reasonable minds could not differ that VI-Doug did not violate its duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition for its patrons by placing the sign as worded on the restaurant's front door.
Did VI-Doug owe Miles a duty to protect her from the naturally occurring wind?
The court held that the analysis of a premises owner's duty to an invitee was bifurcated into an initial determination of whether a duty existed at all, and secondly, if a duty existed, an application of comparative negligence. The court then found that despite the general rule that a possessor of land owed a duty to his business invitees to maintain his premises in a reasonably safe condition, VI-Doug did not owe Miles a duty to protect her from the naturally occurring wind. However, the appellate court held, contrary to the district court, that the question whether the restaurant created a dangerous condition by placing a sign on the door directing invitees to take specific action was a question of basic fact for the jury to decide.