Skip Maine state header navigation

Agencies | Online Services | Help
Coffin v. Lariat Associates
Download as PDF
Back to the Opinions page

Decision:	2001 ME 33
Docket:	Oxf-00-300	
on briefs:	October 26, 2000		
Decided:	February 20, 2001	




	[¶1]  Dale Coffin appeals from a summary judgment entered in the
Superior Court (Oxford County, Gorman, J.) in favor of Lariat Associates and
Richard Foye.  Coffin contends that the court erred (1) in determining that
there was not a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether Lariat
owed him a duty, and (2) in concluding that Lariat did not breach a duty of
care owed.  Finding no error, we affirm the judgment.
	[¶2]  Coffin was involved in an accident on land adjacent to the
Johnson Mobile Home Park in Oxford while preparing a mobile home for
transport.  He had been employed by a transport company to remove the
mobile home from the land.  Lariat operates Johnson Park and owns the
land on which the mobile home involved was temporarily situated.    Foye, a
Lariat employee at the time, managed Johnson Park.
	[¶3]  Lariat did not own the mobile home, transport it, or set it up
when it arrived on its land.  The owner of the mobile home received
permission from Lariat to place the mobile home near Johnson Park in
exchange for a storage fee.{1}  Coffin had permission to go on the land to
attach the mobile home to his truck and transport it to a location off the
property.  When he arrived at the park, the snow in front of the mobile
home had been plowed, and the land where the mobile home sat was level.
	[¶4] Coffin observed that one side of the mobile home was trigged.{2} 
He did not check the other side and was not aware that it had not been
trigged.  Normally Coffin would put trigs in place if they were not set when
he worked on a mobile home.  Preparing the mobile home for transport,
Coffin touched the latch and the trailer shifted sideways, landing on his foot. 
Coffin sustained a crush injury to his right foot.  There is no evidence that
anyone besides Coffin and his partner were present when the accident
	[¶5] Coffin brought a complaint in the Superior Court against Lariat,
alleging that (1) Lariat owed him a duty to exercise reasonable care over the
premises to keep it safe for his use, (2) it knew or had reason to know of the
unsafe setup of the mobile home, (3) it breached its duty to provide
reasonably safe premises and to warn of danger, and (4) Coffin's injuries
resulted from this breach.  Coffin also alleged negligence against Foye. 
	[¶6]  The court granted a summary judgment to the defendants,
noting that Coffin made no allegation that the land was unsafe, and
concluding that they owed no duty to Coffin regarding the mobile home
itself.  Coffin filed this appeal.
	[¶7]  We review a trial court's entry of a summary judgment for errors
of law, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the party against
whom a summary judgment has been entered, to determine if the prevailing
party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.  Button v. Peoples Heritage
Sav. Bank, 666 A.2d 120, 122 (Me. 1995).  We will affirm the entry of a
summary judgment if there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact
and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."  Steeves
v. Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, P.C., 1998 ME 210, ¶ 11,
718 A.2d 186, 190.  To defeat a summary judgment motion, the plaintiff
must establish a prima facie case for each element of his cause of action that
is challenged by the defendant.
	[¶8]  A landowner owes a duty of reasonable care to provide safe
premises to all persons lawfully on the land, and a duty to use ordinary care
to ensure the premises are safe and to guard against all reasonably
foreseeable dangers, in light of the totality of the circumstances.  Hanson v.
Madison Paper Co., 564 A.2d 1178, 1179 (Me. 1989); Baker v. Mid Maine
Med. Ctr., 499 A.2d 464, 467 (Me. 1985).  The duty also includes the
exercise of reasonable care to prevent harm caused by third persons.  Baker,
499 A.2d at 469.  But see Hodgdon v. Jones, 538 A.2d 281, 283 (Me. 1988)
(relieving homeowner of duty to warn laborers working under independent
contractor's supervision of increased risk of injury caused by renovation
work on the home).  A landowner is not obliged to guarantee absolute safety,
but is required to supply a reasonably safe place, guarding against all
reasonably foreseeable dangers as the circumstances indicate.  Hanson, 564
A.2d at 1179.
	[¶9]  Coffin does not allege that the land on which the mobile home
sat was defective or dangerous.  Rather, he alleges that the mobile home was
in a dangerous condition sitting on the land because it had not been
properly set up on the property by the party that placed it there.
	[¶10]  Although Lariat did not place the mobile home on the property,
Coffin relies on a statement made by Foye to a private investigator hired by
Coffin's attorney to establish that Foye knew that the mobile home was
improperly set up on the property, that Lariat, as Foye's employer, was
charged with that knowledge, and that the defendants had a duty to warn of
that danger.  The private investigator asserts that Foye said that the mobile
home "didn't look as if it had been left in a stable condition" and that the
set-up overall appeared to be "Mickey Mouse."  Foye does not recall making
a statement on the stability of the mobile home, and he testified that his
"Mickey Mouse" comment referred to Coffin's method of preparing the
mobile home for transport based on his assessment of the condition of the
sight after the accident.  We have to construe the statement, however, in the
light most favorable to Coffin.  Machias Sav. Bank v. Longfellow, 662 A.2d
235, 237 (Me. 1995).
	[¶11]  When we do so, Coffin's evidence is insufficient to withstand
the motion for a summary judgment.  At most, the knowledge that can be
inferred from Foye's statement, and thus attributed to Lariat, is that the
mobile home was in some sort of unstable condition on the ground.  Because
there is no evidence that Foye made any kind of close inspection of the
mobile home, whatever made it appear to him to be unstable, or "Mickey
Mouse," could not have been a hidden or latent condition.
	[¶12]  A landowner has no duty to warn invitees of open and obvious
dangers on the property unless the possessor should anticipate the harm
despite the knowledge or obviousness of the harm to the invitee.  Williams v.
Boise Cascade Corp., 507 A.2d 576, 577 (Me. 1986) (citing the Restatement
(Second) of Torts § 343A(1) (1965)).
	[¶13]  In the circumstances of this case, the defendants cannot be
held to a duty to warn about an open and obvious condition of the mobile
home to someone like Coffin, who was in the business of transporting and
setting up mobile homes.  Indeed, Coffin does not allege that the cause of his
injury was hidden, or that he should not have been aware of its existence. 
The mobile home did not shift and fall on his leg until he commenced the
work of preparing it for transport.  Coffin did not check to see if both sides
of the mobile home were trigged before starting the operation, even though
he admitted that it is the normal practice of someone in his business to do
so.  The defendants cannot be held to a standard that requires them to have
anticipated that Coffin would proceed to prepare the mobile home for
transport without checking to see that it was properly trigged.  The
Superior Court correctly concluded as a matter of law that the defendants
had no duty to warn Coffin of the condition of the mobile home, and
properly entered a summary judgment.
	The entry is:
			Judgment affirmed.

Attorney for plaintiff: Sheldon J. Tepler, Esq. Hardy Wolf & Downing, P.A. P O Box 3065 Lewiston, ME 04243-3065 Attorney for defendant: Elizabeth A. Germani, Esq. Germani & Riggle, LLC 4 Milk Street Portland, ME 04401
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . Ricker Associates and A-1 Crane Corporation transported the mobile home onto Lariat's property. The complaint included counts against them, alleging that they had a duty to park, immobilize, and stabilize the mobile home in a reasonably safe manner. Both counts were dismissed. {2} . To trig is "to prevent (a wheel, cask, etc.) from rolling by placing a wedge, stone, etc." New World Dictionary (2d ed. 1978).