Could a gas station be liable for injuries suffered by two patrons struck by an out-of-control vehicle? It could if the injured patrons can show the risk of such injury was reasonably foreseeable and the property owners failed to take basic measures to prevent it.
This issue was raised in the recent case of Stanley v. Scott Petroleum Corp., where a vehicle plowed into two women who were standing at a walk-up pay window, buying fuel.
The case was recently before the Mississippi Supreme Court, which reversed an earlier grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. Justices ruled the trial court should have allowed plaintiff their requested continuance to conduct more discovery before deciding whether defense was entitled to summary judgment. The case has been remanded for further consideration.
According to court records, the gas station was located at the corner of a busy street, off the highway. Two customers were standing in between a set of vending shelves that had drinks for purchase and a walk-up window. Suddenly, from seemingly out of nowhere, a car came careening into the lot. It slammed into the vending shelves, and knocked them into the two waiting customers.
Both customers were injured.
A police investigation would later show the brakes of the vehicle were not properly functioning, and the car was trying to slow down as it approached the intersection. The vehicle then barreled into the gas station parking lot at about 45 mph.
In a personal injury case like this, there are multiple potential defendants. For example, there is obviously the vehicle driver, who hopefully had insurance. One could also take action against the owner of the vehicle, if different from the driver. Because the issue was reportedly a vehicle defect, one could also look into legal action against the vehicle manufacturer and/ or any repair shop that provided recent maintenance or any parts manufacturers that may have produced pieces that didn’t function properly.
And, of course, there is also the possibility of a premises liability case, such as the one raised by plaintiffs here.
Both filed complaints against the gas station. They asserted negligence, gross negligence and respondeat superior (“let the master answer”; used in cases where employer is held responsible for actions of employees). These allegations were based on the assertion the company required patrons to stand in a place that was unreasonably dangerous. Although bollards, or concrete posts, were placed around the store, gas pump and power pole, there were no barriers or curbs protecting those standing at the walk-up window.
There was, however, a sign on the side of the store that said in all capital letters, “CAUTION! BE SAFE AND ALERT. WATCH OUT FOR MOVING VEHICLES.”
The two sides made it only as far as completion of written discovery requests when defense filed a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs opposed this and requested a continuance so they could take depositions, obtain affidavits and conduct further discovery. Specifically, plaintiffs asked the court to wait to make a decision on whether the issue was foreseeable (and therefore whether defendant owed a duty of care to plaintiffs) until it had a chance to complete an inspection of the property, reviewed expert witness reports and deposed the defendant.
The trial court declined to wait and instead granted motion for summary judgment, a decision the appeals court affirmed. However, state supreme court reversed.
It wasn’t that the court necessarily sides with plaintiffs, but rather they should have been granted the opportunity to finish the discovery process before the court made its decision.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Stanley v. Scott Petroleum Corp., Feb. 11, 2016, Mississippi Supreme Court
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Researchers: Lower Gas Prices Mean More Traffic Deaths, Feb. 11, 2016, Greensboro Personal Injury Attorney Blog