Gentry v. Douglas Hereford Ranch, Inc.

1998 MT 182, 290 Mont. 126, 962 P.2d 1205

 

RULE:

A negligence action requires proof of four elements: (1) existence of a duty; (2) breach of the duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages. If the plaintiff fails to offer proof of one of these elements, the action in negligence fails and summary judgment in favor of the defendant is proper. The causation element requires proof of both cause in fact and proximate cause.

FACTS:

The decedent was shot when a person carrying a rifle stumbled and accidentally pulled the trigger. The accident occurred on property owned by the ranch and leased to the cattle company. The personal representative filed suit against the ranch, the cattle company, and the shooter, who subsequently filed bankruptcy. The personal representative alleged that the ranch and the cattle company negligently failed to properly maintain the property and they were vicariously liable for the shooter's negligence under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The court affirmed the summary judgment in favor of the ranch and the cattle company. 

ISSUE:

Is speculation sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment, where cause in fact of an accident cannot be proven?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The personal representative offered no substantial evidence that any condition on the property caused the shooter to stumble and fall. Therefore, the issue of causation was subject to speculation. The personal representative also failed to establish that the shooter was an employee of the ranch or the cattle company. Moreover, it was undisputed that the shooter was not acting on behalf of the ranch or the cattle company at the time of the shooting. Therefore, the ranch and the cattle company were not vicariously liable.

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