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Laine v. Speedway, LLC

Supreme Court of Delaware

January 8, 2018

MICHAEL LAINE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellant,
v.
SPEEDWAY, LLC, Defendant-Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: October 25, 2017

         Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware C.A. No.: K15C-12-008

         Upon appeal from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED.

          Nicholas H. Rodriguez, Esquire, Schmittinger & Rodriguez, P.A., Dover, Delaware, for Appellant, Michael Laine.

          Jessica L. Tyler, Esquire, and Sarah B. Cole, Esquire (Argued), Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellee, Speedway, LLC.

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA, VAUGHN, SEITZ, and TRAYNOR, Justices, constituting the Court en Banc.

          VAUGHN, JUSTICE

         The Plaintiff/Appellant, Michael Laine, slipped and fell on ice near a gas pump on the premises of a convenience store-gasoline station operated by the Defendant/Appellee, Speedway, LLC ("Speedway") in Dover. He was the driver of a Modern Maturity Center shuttle bus and slipped when he stepped off the shuttle to fill its tank with gasoline. The fall caused him to sustain serious physical injuries. The ice was caused by a light, freezing rain which was then falling. Mr. Laine filed suit against Speedway, alleging that negligence on Speedway's part was the proximate cause of his injuries. The Superior Court granted summary judgment for Speedway, holding that under the continuing storm doctrine Speedway was permitted to wait until the freezing rain had ended and a reasonable time thereafter before clearing ice from its gasoline station surface. There are two questions on appeal. The first is whether a business owner that remains open during a winter storm should be able to avail itself of the continuing storm doctrine at all, that is; whether we should continue to recognize the doctrine. The second is whether the continuing storm doctrine applies to the facts of this case. For the reasons which follow, we have concluded that the continuing storm doctrine should continue to be recognized and that it does apply to the facts of this case. The Superior Court is affirmed.

         I

         On January 10, 2014, Speedway's convenience store-gasoline station in Dover opened at 6:00 a.m. Two employees were on hand, Jessica Lorilla and John Tetuan.

         According to weather records, rain was falling at 6:54 a.m. The previous weather reading was taken at 6:20 a.m. and did not show rain falling. Therefore, it can be inferred that rain began falling sometime between 6:20 a.m. and 6:54 a.m. The temperature when those readings were taken was 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The rain was a freezing rain which continued throughout the day.

         At 7:00 a.m. Ms. Lorilla slipped on ice outside the front door of the convenience store. She notified Mr. Tetuan, who was to call the ice and snow removal company used by Speedway. Ms. Lorilla worked until 11:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. and has no recollection of the ice and snow removal company being there, but there is a record of an invoice from the company for work done sometime that day. The two employees took no further steps concerning ice outside the store.

         Meanwhile, at 7:05 a.m. Mr. Laine, a shuttle bus driver for Modern Maturity Center, began driving a shuttle bus from the Center to Speedway's gasoline station. In his deposition, Mr. Laine testified that he recalled that the roads from the Modern Maturity Center to Speedway's property were wet, and a light rain or drizzle was falling. After stopping the shuttle bus at a gas pump at Speedway's gas station, Mr. Laine stepped out, slipped on ice and fell. It is undisputed that the ice upon which Mr. Laine slipped was caused by the rain freezing upon contact with the gasoline station surface.

         Another customer reported Mr. Laine's fall to Ms. Lorilla and she came out to assist him. An incident report prepared that day records Mr. Laine's fall as occurring at 7:15 a.m. Mr. Laine carried out his Modern Maturity Center duties for the rest of that day but later began to feel pain. Ultimately, it was determined that the fall caused him to suffer serious physical injuries, and he has not been able to return to work.

         Schools remained open that day, and there is no evidence of businesses closing.

         Mr. Laine filed suit against Speedway, alleging negligence on its part for failure to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, failure to make reasonable inspections of the premises, failure to warn him of the hazardous conditions that existed, and failure to remove ice at the pump where he fell. Speedway filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that under the continuing storm doctrine it was permitted to wait until the freezing rain ended and a reasonable time thereafter before removing the ice from its premises. The Superior Court granted the motion, finding that the continuing storm doctrine was a valid defense to Mr. Laine's claims of negligence. This appeal followed.

         II

         AThis Court reviews de novo the Superior Court's grant or denial of summary judgment 'to determine whether, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the moving party has demonstrated that there are no material issues of fact in dispute and ...


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