eNotes: Liability – September 2022 – Virginia
September 01, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
VA CASE SUMMARIES
Rife v. Tractor Supply Co.
United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia
No. 1:21CV00016, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125672
Decided: July 15, 2022
Federal Court grants Motion for summary judgment in dog food slip and fall case.
Plaintiff, John Rife, and his son visited Tractor Supply Company where they intended to buy a dog leash. After taking a few steps into the relevant aisle, Mr. Rife stepped on some dog food and fell. Neither Mr. Rife nor his son had noticed the dog food prior to his fall. After the fall, they saw it was scattered across the aisle, and noticed that several pieces of the dog food were crushed. One of the bags of dog food located on the lowest shelf appeared to be open. There was no evidence as to when the dog food may have spilled on the floor. After discovery, Tractor Supply filed a Motion for summary judgement.
The Court applied Virginia substantive law for slip and fall cases. Tractor Supply argued that no jury could conclude from the evidence presented that it had actual or constructive notice of the spilled dog food, and that Mr. Rife had not produced any evidence as to how long the dog food had been on the floor. Mr. Rife argued that the crushed dog food suggested that it had been there long enough that a store employee should have noticed it. Mr. Rife also argued that Tractor Supply violated its own store safety policy because it knew that dog food spilled on a daily basis and needed to be cleaned up immediately, yet could provide no evidence that the dog food aisle had been inspected the day of the visit.
Plaintiff produced no evidence that any Tractor Supply employee had actual knowledge of the spilled dog food prior to Mr. Rife’s fall. Mr. Rife produced no evidence as to how long the dog food had been on the floor. The fact that the dog food had been crushed was not sufficient evidence, as the food could have spilled right before Mr. Rife entered the aisle, and his own fall could have caused the food to be crushed. Furthermore, while Tractor Supply’s safety policies regarding dog food spills speak to the foreseeability of a dangerous condition, the failure to maintain the premises is passive conduct, not affirmative conduct. In the absence of affirmative conduct, more specific proof of notice is required than general notice of a reoccurring dangerous condition. Plaintiff did not allege more affirmative conduct and, therefore, the Court held in favor of Tractor Supply and granted its Motion for summary judgment.
Questions about this case can be directed to Kelly Crowe at (571) 464-0434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Travco Ins. Co. v. Patteson
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
Decided: May 18, 2022
Insurer had a duty to defend an insured who allegedly discharged a firearm and injured his son under the potentiality rule.
TRAVCO Insurance Company issued a homeowner’s insurance policy to Troy Patteson which provided coverage for personal liability for “Bodily Injury” and “Property Damage” up to $300,000. Troy Patteson’s son, Colin Patteson, sued Troy in state court alleging two counts: negligence and battery. Colin alleged that Troy discharged a firearm and struck Colin, injuring his face, jaw, and ear. While the negligence count alleged that Troy negligently handled the firearm and caused it to discharge, the battery count alleged that Troy intentionally shot Colin in the face after Colin’s dog chewed Troy’s Christmas lights.
The TRAVCO policy excludes coverage for acts expected or intended by an insured. TRAVCO argued that, as one count in the underlying suit alleged intentional, wanton, or reckless conduct by its insured, the insured’s ultimate liability would not be covered under the TRAVCO policy and, therefore, TRAVCO would not have a duty to defend Troy.
When deciding whether a duty to defend exists, Virginia law mandates using the eight corners rule, under which courts consider only the allegations in the complaint and the contents of the insurance policy. Virginia recognizes the “potentiality rule,” which dictates that insurers have a duty to defend if there is any possibility that a judgment against the insured will be covered under the insurance policy. Here, the Court determined that the Complaint in the underlying suit did not allege a set of facts that is so obviously intentional that the negligence count will clearly fail. As the underlying Complaint alleged two alternative theories, there is a possibility that the judgment in the underlying suit would be covered by the TRAVCO policy, such that TRAVCO has a duty to defend Troy.
Questions about this case can be directed to Mackenzie Payne at (571) 470-1906 or email@example.com.