Taco food truck explosion not foreseeable, divided COA says

A man injured while waiting for his taco lunch lost his appeal that he was owed a duty of care from a salvage yard, with a majority of an Indiana Court of Appeals panel finding a food truck explosion at the salvage yard was not reasonably foreseeable.

While waiting in line at a taco food truck, German Linares was in the line of fire when the food truck suddenly exploded. Linares sustained injuries and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, then later filed a negligence suit against both El Tacarajo, the food truck operator, and U-Pull-And-Pay, the salvage business on which the food truck was parked.

Linares argued in his complaint that El Tacarajo was negligent, that UPAP failed to take reasonable steps to investigate the food truck’s operations and that the salvage yard was vicariously liable for El Tacajaro’s negligent acts because it was in a joint venture with the food truck on its commercial property. But UPAP filed a motion for summary judgement arguing it owed no duty to protect Linares from the unforeseeable actions of El Tacarajo and that it was not vicariously liable for the food truck’s negligent acts. The Marion Superior Court granted the motion in favor of UPAP.

On appeal, Linares argued that given the nature of UPAP’s business, a gas explosion of any sort on UPAP’s property was foreseeable. He argued the claim should be evaluated under the Restatement (Second) of Torts’ section 343 analysis for injuries resulting from a condition of the land. Linares further asserted he was “injured due to a dangerous appliance and the hazardous use of explosive materials[,]” and if UPAP had taken precautions to inspect the food truck, the explosion could have been prevented.

But a majority of the appellate court disagreed with Linares’ arguments in German A. Linares v. El Tacarajo and U-Pull-And-Pay, LLC d/b/a Pic A Part, 18A-CT-276 finding that although the stove in the food truck on UPAP’s property ignited and caused the explosion, Linares’ injuries resulted from the activities of El Tacarajo’s employees in relation to the stove. Thus, the appellate court concluded the foreseeability analysis must be applied to determine if a duty exists, and that analysis determined the explosion was not foreseeable.

The majority said Linares’ formulation of the foreseeability analysis was too broad and found that UPAP and El Tacajaro were not engaged in a joint venture – thus defeating the vicarious liability argument – because the parties’ agreement did not provide for profit-sharing and no decisions were made jointly in regard to the food operation.

“Should food trucks be inspected? Probably. Should UPAP have taken more interest in a mobile business it allowed to operate on its premises and sell to its customers? Possibly,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for a divided COA panel Friday. “But should a company in a completely unrelated private business which periodically provides a parking space be required to conduct that inspection and ensure the food truck is safely maintained and its employees properly trained? Even if UPAP had asked the questions Linares and the dissent argue it should have, it still would not have been reasonably foreseeable to UPAP that the food truck would suddenly explode because of an employee’s negligence.”

Thus, the ruling in favor of UPAP was affirmed by a majority joined by Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik. But Judge James Kirsch dissented, arguing in a separate opinion that nothing in the record indicated UPAP made any inquiries regarding the operations of the food truck, even though it was well aware of the risk of explosions from handling flammable materials at the salvage yard.

“Summary judgment is rarely appropriate in negligence cases and, from my perspective, is not appropriate here,” Kirsch wrote. “These cases are fact sensitive and are governed by a standard of the objective reasonable person. The determination of liability should be made by a jury after hearing all the evidence.”

Kirsch said he would reverse the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

This article was first published by The Indiana Lawyer.

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