Employee can’t sue boss after falling on ice outside boss’s house, COA affirms

A businesswoman who was sued after one of her employees injured herself on the sidewalk outside of her home can’t be blamed for the icy conditions that led to her fall, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed.

Andrea Burns was an executive director with Pure Romance, “a direct sales company that provides bath and beauty, sexual health education [and] wellness products for ladies.” As executive director, Burns had a team of 100 women who worked for her, including Erin Harrell Stanley.

On Dec. 16, 2019, Pure Romance had planned a YouTube live corporate broadcast, and Burns invited her team to her home in St. John to watch.

When Stanley arrived, Burns’ driveway was filled with cars, so she parked on the street. After taking “three or four steps,” Stanley slipped on ice, fell and sustained injury to her left leg that required emergency medical attention.

In September 2020, Stanley filed a personal injury complaint against Andrea and Renardell Burns. The defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting they had no common law duty to clear the public sidewalk where Stanley fell. Also, they argued the town of St. John ordinance that required the defendants to clear the public sidewalk did not create a private right of action.

The Lake Superior Court entered summary judgment in March 2022 for the defendants in an order that contained no findings of fact.

At the Court of Appeals, judges affirmed, finding no common law or statutory duty to clear the public sidewalk where Burns fell.

“Here, there is no genuine issue of material fact about where Plaintiff fell,” Judge Melissa May wrote. “According to her own deposition testimony, she was on the road-side sidewalk in front of Defendants’ house.

“Nor, in light of the uncontested plat of survey designated by Defendants, is there any genuine issue of material fact that the road-side sidewalk abutted, but was outside, the property owned by defendants,” May continued. Thus, Plaintiff fell on a public sidewalk provided for the neighborhood.

“‘It is well settled in Indiana that an owner or occupant of property abutting a public street or sidewalk has no duty to clear those streets or sidewalks of ice and snow,’” May concluded, citing Lawson v. Lafayette Home Hosp., Ind., 760 N.E.2d 1126, 1129 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002).

This article was first published in The Indiana Lawyer.

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