THEIR VIEW: Speedway might have difficult time with slip-and-shock case

By The West Virginia Record | Jan 18, 2013


In a rather unpleasant way to start the New Year, a man slipped on a patch of black ice and suffered an electric shock when he grabbed a light pole to regain his balance. The incident occurred outside of Speedway, LLC in Charleston, where Shane Holstine went to go buy kerosene. Holstine claims that his injury was due to negligence by Speedway and has filed a lawsuit against the company in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Holstine claims that he received a shock due to the fact that the electricity to the light pole was not properly grounded. Had Speedway prevented the ice from accumulating outside, he never would have lost his footing and touched the pole. Holstine alleges that Speedway failed to regularly inspect the area, and as a result, it became so obstructed by accumulated ice that it was not safe for normal use. He also faulted the company for permitting a light pole in an area frequented by customers to be improperly grounded. Holstine is seeking compensatory damages for his injury.

When the injury is a result of the property owner's failure to take reasonable care of the property, the injured party has the option of hiring a West Virginia personal injury attorney and suing for premise liability. The most typical types of premise liability cases involve slipping and falling, dog bites and other animal attacks, insufficient security, and workplace or construction injuries.

A property owner's liability for an injury depends upon the nature of the injured party's visit to the property. If the injured party were merely a guest, with no financial incentive to be on the property, he or she would be considered a licensee. In the case of a licensee, the property owner has a duty to warn about conditions on the property that the owner knows are harmful.

On the other hand, if the injured party were there for a business purpose, or because the property was opened to the public, he or she would be considered an invitee. Property owners have the strictest responsibility to invitees: they must warn of, or make safe, hazards that the property owner either knew about or should have known about. Not only are property owners bound by these duties, but property possessors as well.

Since Holstine had come to Speedway to purchase kerosene, he would be considered an invitee. Therefore, Speedway would have been required to have at least posted a clear warning about the ice and light pole. What is not clear is whether the area near the Speedway store would be considered part of the store's property.

Even if it were not part of Speedway's actual property, the store might still have a responsibility to maintain it. Businesses are typically held responsible for maintaining the condition of "public" places like sidewalks, based on their proximity to the business. Oftentimes, it will even be in the business's lease. Speedway would thus have still had a responsibility to Holstine as an invitee. Speedway might try to argue that it took repeated measures to clean up the ice and that there was no way it could reasonably know about the light pole. However, that might prove to be a difficult argument.

The Wolfe Law Firm is an Elkins personal injury law firm founded by Dorwin Wolfe.

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