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02/18/80 JOHN D. MCCORMICK v. JAMES WATERS

February 18, 1980

JOHN D. MCCORMICK, PETITIONER
v.
JAMES WATERS, RESPONDENT



CERTIORARI TO COURT OF APPEALS ROANE LAW HONORABLE WILLARD KITTRELL, JR., JUDGE.

Henry, J., wrote the opinion. Concurring: Brock, C.j., Fones, J., Cooper, J., Harbison, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry

HENRY, J.

This negligence action arose as a result of an injury to plaintiff's shoulder sustained when a barn loft, into which he was stacking bales of hay, collapsed.

The jury found defendant liable and awarded $6,000.00 in damages. At the Conclusion of plaintiff's proof, and again at the Conclusion of all the proof, defendant moved for a directed verdict. The trial court denied both motions and submitted the case to the jury on the theory that defendant had a duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. After the jury returned its verdict for plaintiff, defendant Waters renewed his motion for a directed verdict; the motion was denied.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Trial Judge erred in failing to sustain defendant's motion for a directed verdict. According to the Court of Appeals, plaintiff had shown, not that defendant failed to exercise ordinary care and diligence in maintaining the loft, but only that the loft had collapsed, that the plaintiff was injured, and that the loft might have been negligently constructed -- in sum, insufficient evidence to put the question of negligence to the jury.

Plaintiff asserts that the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the trial court and maintains that the Court of Appeals overlooked the proper rule of law to be applied in this case, i.e., that the landowner has a duty to a business invitee/worker to provide a safe place to work. We agree.

It is not disputed that defendant was the owner of the premises, that plaintiff, a business invitee/worker, was injured while working for defendant on his property, and at his request. We conclude that defendant property owner was obligated to use ordinary care to maintain his premises in a reasonably safe condition for those invited on his land and, more specifically, that he should have maintained his premises -- in this instance, the loft -- in such a way that an invited workman would have a safe place to work. This he did not do.

I.

On August 27, 1971, John McCormick was stacking bales of hay in the newly constructed loft of James Waters' barn when the loft suddenly gave way.As a result McCormick fell and was injured.

The barn was on the property when Waters bought the land. It is a ramp barn and sits up against a slight rise so that on one side of it a road leads up to the opening of the upper level. It was through this entrance to the barn that McCormick was unloading bales into the barn loft for storage.

The barn, as originally built, had no loft. When Waters decided to add a loft for the storage of hay, his father, who helps Waters run the farm, contacted and hired Wallace Brogdon to do the construction. Occasionally, in the past Brogdon had worked on Waters' farm, but at the time he was hired to build the loft, he was hired solely for that purpose. Brogdon had previously built such structures, and neither Waters nor his father participated in or supervised the construction. According to his testimony, Brogdon used standard construction in building the loft. However, the record shows that he did not use braces or bridging; the loft was "toe nailed" in place.

Waters, Sr., inspected the loft after it was completed and "found nothing wrong with it." Waters, Sr., retired by this time, had previously worked as a construction estimator. Defendant Waters, the son and owner of the property never saw the loft until after the accident. Waters, Sr., testified that McCormick had taken a look at the loft and had expressed agreement that it passed muster. McCormick denied that he inspected the construction and testified further that he did not view the loft from below, but saw it from above as he unloaded bales from the truck.

Waters' father hired McCormick to cut and bale hay and load the bales into the loft. As McCormick and helpers were in the process of stacking bales in the loft, it collapsed without warning. McCormick, upon whom hay had fallen, was taken to a nearby hospital, admitted and treated for seven days, primarily for a shoulder injury. At the time of the collapse about 200 to 250 bales of hay had been stacked on the loft floor. Whether the bales had been stacked in such a way as possibly to ...


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