• May 14, 2009

A guest at a house along with his parents, a three year-old child climbed on an unsecured empty bookcase, which fell on him and caused serious injuries. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmance of the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the land-owner/defendants. The courts all held, at its essence, that the land-owner defendants did not owe a duty to child-proof their home prior to inviting a toddler onto the premises or risk liability for the child’s injury.

Defendants, in their deposition testimony, admitted to being aware that a bookcase that is not secured to the wall could fall, and on this basis plaintiff argued that the harm that occurred was sufficiently foreseeable to create an issue of fact for the jury. The Minnesota Suprem Court disagreed: “When dealing with a three-year-old child, the realm of possible harm is much larger than the realm of reasonably foreseeable harm. It is not difficult to make a laundry list of common household items with which a three-year-old could conceivably injure himself, but negligence law does not require a homeowner to take every precaution to guard against every possible eventuality. For example, we would not expect homeowners to bolt down their table lamps before inviting a three-year-old into their house, even though it is possible that such a child could be injured by pulling the lamp onto himself.”

The case also included a spoliation component. After the accident, the Defendants moved the bookcase to the garage after remodeling the room in which it had been. Then, although the defendants were contacted by an insurance representative about possible claims on child’s behalf, the Kincades threw the bookcase away in the spring of 2004. Plaintiff argued that the bookcase could have included express warning stickers. “A discovery sanction is only appropriate if the unavailability of the evidence results in prejudice to the opposing party,” the Court held. The Court continued to conclude that the existence of warning stickers would not have changed the case’s outcome.

Justice Page dissented, making the rather uncontroversial point in my opinion that it is, in fact, foreseeable that toddlers will climb on furniture.

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