In the Indiana Supreme Court case of Reece v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., 173 N.E.3d 1031 (Ind., 2021), Walter Reece was riding on his motorcycle through an intersection when at the same time, a car driven by Harold Moistner pulled out into the intersection and hit Reece. A deputy at the scene observed tall grass on the corner of the intersection that could have limited Moistner’s view of Reece. The grass grew in a ditch that Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc. owned. At the time of the collision, however, the grass did not extend to the road. Reece suffered serious injuries and his wife then sued both Moistner and Tyson. After settlement of the claims against Moistner and other defendants, Tyson was left as the sole defendant with a claim against it for “negligence for allowing grass to grow so high on their property that it blocked the view of the roadway.”
Tyson moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no duty of care owed to Reece which the trial court granted. Reece appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Indiana Supreme Court then granted transfer of the case to address whether Tyson had a duty to nearby motorists. The court held that Tyson did not owe a duty of care to Reece. The facts supported this conclusion for two reasons. First, the tall grass in the ditch was indisputably confined to Tyson’s property and did not encroach upon the roadway. Secondly, the tall grass did not intrude on the public right of way.
The Court then affirmed the summary judgement and expressly adopted the rule announced in Sheley v. Cross, 680 N.E.2d 10 (Ind.App.,1997), “a landowner owes a duty to passing motorists on an adjacent highway to not create ‘hazardous conditions that visit themselves upon the roadway.’ But when a land use or condition that may impose a visual obstruction is ‘wholly contained on a landowner’s property, there is not duty to the traveling public.’” The court finally noted that this ruling was confined to visual obstructions that do not come in contact with traveling motorists and does not address situations where a motorist comes in contact with a condition that is wholly contained on the land.
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