Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – Sept. 25, 2014

Cheeks v. Autozonepremises liability/store entranceways – Cheeks was entering an Autozone in South Jackson when a car careened into the entranceway.  The sides of the store had concrete bollards erected between the sidewalk and the parking lot  but the handicap ramp provided a straight slope up into the entranceway.  When Cheeks became aware of the car zooming toward him, he headed behind a bollard but the car drove into Cheeks and severely injured him.  Cheeks  sued Autozone.  The driver of the vehicle gave varying stories about how it was he drove through the entrance.  It seems that Autozone would use the entrance, which was covered,  to place windshield wipers on customers’ cars when it was raining.   The driver claimed this was why he drove into the entranceway and that his accelerator got stuck.  But the driver also suffered from seizures.    Autozone argued that it had no duty to protect customers from runaway cars under Mississippi law. The jury for for Cheeks in an amount of two and half million with Autozone 45% at fault. The trial court granted a jnov.  An en banc court (split 5-3) reverses and reinstates the verdict.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Cheeks, the nonmovant, the jury had credible evidence to determine that an injury was reasonably foreseeable. AutoZone’s architect testified that AutoZone was spending $2,000 a week repairing broken glass from cars bumping into unprotected storefronts. He further testified that the design of this store left a “straight unimpeded shot [for a car to drive] through the [entrance] gap,” the very spot where Cheeks was struck. “In this situation, there is at least enough evidence of foreseeability to establish a question of material fact for the jury to determine.” See Thomas v. Columbia Group, LLC, 969 So. 2d 849, 855 (Miss. 2007). “A defendant who creates a hazardous condition has a duty to make safe or warn of that condition[.]” Patterson v. T. L. Wallace Constr., Inc., 133 So. 3d 325, 331 (Miss. 2013). “[W]hether a party assumed a duty must be determined by the individual facts of the case and the existence or absence of detrimental reliance on that assumed duty.” Wagner v. Mattiace Co., 938 So. 2d 879, 886 (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). In short, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Cheeks, the jury had sufficient evidence to find that it was reasonably foreseeable for an injury to occur and that AutoZone had breached the duty it assumed.

This is the only decision on the handdown list today.

Mississippi Litigation Review covers the Cheeks opinion here.

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