Showing posts with label Harry Potter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harry Potter. Show all posts

Friday, September 13, 2019

Appeals court rejects landowner liability for 'open and obvious' danger of backyard zipline

The same day the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the Boston Globe case this week, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for the defendants against a landowner liability claim in which a six-year-old was injured on a backyard zipline.

A backyard zipline with a child safety seat. (Larry Koester CC BY 2.0.)
A handy defendant had installed the backyard zipline himself.  Six-year-old Aaron was visiting with his father to pick up Aaron's older brother from a sleepover.  The father aided Aaron in trying out the zipline, but after giving the boy some freedom, Aaron lost his grip, fell, and suffered compound fractures to his arm, requiring multiple surgeries.

Plaintiffs sued in landowner liability, alleging an unreasonably dangerous condition, as the zipline lacked a safety seat that could have prevented such an accident.  Defendants answered that the danger of the zipline, including the lack of a safety seat, was open and obvious, so negated the landowner's duty.

The court agreed that the condition was open and obvious, which somewhat negates the duty of a landowner, because it is the open-and-obvious nature of the hazard that makes it unforeseeable that the guest would fail to exercise reasonable care.  Plaintiffs argued that the condition was not open and obvious to the perception of a six-year-old.  The court held that when the child is under adult supervision, it is the perception of the adult, not that of the child, that controls.

However, the court held that an open and obvious condition does not necessarily negate a duty to abate an unreasonably dangerous condition "when the owner knows or has reason to know that visitors might nonetheless proceed to encounter the danger for a variety of reasons, including being distracted, forgetful, or even negligent, or deciding that the benefits of encountering the condition outweigh the risks."  Still, the court found the record "devoid of evidence that the zip line was unreasonably dangerous, or that the defendants facilitated an 'improper' or 'highly dangerous use' ...."

The conclusion is sound, but the reasoning highlights a problem with persistent common law doctrines that revolve around "open and obvious danger."  There is a tendency for litigants and courts to indulge "open and obvious" as a magical incantation that changes the rules of the match, such as here, to negate a duty of care.  Yet as the court observes, the doctrine does not necessarily negate the duty of care.  This approach gets legal duty analysis tied up in a web of factual intricacy that is not what policy-driven landowner duty is supposed to be about.

Harry Potter magic duel 095/365 (Louish Pixel CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Rather than indulging in a tennis match between duty, no duty, and duty again!, the courts should recognize that "open and obvious" is a factual circumstance, so goes to the standard of reasonable care exercised in warning about the danger or abating it.  That's where this case winds up anyway.  And just because it's a reasonableness analysis doesn't mean the court cannot, as here, dispose of the case in pretrial summary judgment when ordinary minds could not differ on the outcome.

I teach landowner negligence (page 25), or premises liability, with "open and obvious" as a matter of evidence rather than a sort-of defense, and I think that's the cleaner doctrine.  But I always have to warn students to watch out, in any given jurisdiction, that a judge might be entranced when counsel waves her wand and utters the spell, "Openanobvius!"

The case is LaForce v. Dyckman, No. 18-P-1234 (Mass. App. Ct. Sept. 9, 2019).  Sullivan, Massing, and Lemire, JJ., were on the panel.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Burning of the Bodleian

Guide Fiona in an oak-paneled room of the ground-level, former Divinity School at Oxford University's main building of the Bodleian Libraries.  Photos are not permitted on the Humfrey Library level, discussed in this post and featured in Harry Potter's Hogwarts.

Today I had the extraordinary experience of touring the main, historic building of the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University, UK.  Here's some of the intriguing and tragic history shared by my capable guide, Fiona (a knowledgeable academic, whom I wish I could identify more precisely; Fiona, get in touch if you read this, and I shall give you due credit).

To get the most important matter out of the way at the top: Yes, this is the place were books literally were flying about the room at Harry Potter's Hogwarts.  Fiona told a couple of good stories about filming in the library, which was permitted only during, and ran fully throughout, nighttime closing hours, 7-7.  Sometimes filming had to be stopped on Harry Potter if sound booms got too close to the ceiling beams, or lights raised the temperature too much for the books' safety. On another occasion, Fiona asked a bearded guy, authorized to case the library, why?, and he answered, "For the next Transformers movie."  Only later did she realize she had spoken with Steven Spielberg.  She still wasn't sure why the library would make an apt set for Transformers.

So I'll skip the fascinating mechanics and history of care for the books--let Fiona have her IP, and you should take the tour, at least the 60-minute version, yourself--and mention just one arresting, contemporary fact: Fiona said it takes on average £20,000 pounds to scan one book from the historical collection.  So feel welcome to donate in support of the effort.  What's here that's worth such extravagant effort?  Fiona casually mentioned the presence of an original Johnson dictionary among the holdings.

In the 15th century--the dawn of the printing press, remember--Fiona said, one book cost about as much as a small car today.  The University library owned the princely sum of 20 books. In the 16th century, Oxford got a massive donation of books from Duke Humfrey (Humphrey of Lancaster, first Duke of Gloucester), but had no place to put them.  So the library asked for some additional money from Humfrey to build the structure I was in today (but just the second floor; the Divinity School was on the ground floor and today is part of the halls still used for Convocation; it was and remains--with modern climate controls precluded in the name of historic building preservation--unwise to store books on the ground level because of the risk of rat and insect infestations).

Today if someone who has the proper credentials wants to see a book from this old collection, he or she must request it in advance, and then is given a date, time, and place to view the book.  The book is then transported via underground tunnel across Broad Street to the more recent Watson Library (opened originally 1940s, renovated and reopened 2015), to meet its reader at the appointed time and station.

Yet these are not the original books of the 15th century.  In the 16th century, the entire contents of the library was (believed) burned in the name of the Reformation.  You can still see where a stone cross was removed from the wall.  The stained glass windows, featuring Catholic iconography, were destroyed and today still are just plain clear glass.  Some 40 or 50 (more?, it is suspected) books are known to have survived the burning, besides pages here and there (some lathered with butter, as they apparently were recycled by fishmongers to wrap their wares).  The library has managed to buy back five--5! (or just three, Wikipedia says).

Thomas Bodley came around to restore the library in the late 16th, early 17th centuries--after 50 years of post-Reformation neglect that left ceilings open to the elements--and the library/libraries took his name.  But that's another story for a longer tour....

"Readers" at the Bodleian--such as, once upon a time, JRR Tolkein--have always been compelled to recite aloud the library's pledge, formerly in Latin and now, thankfully, in English.  At the shop, I bought the tin sign for my law-librarian wife to adorn her workplace, and perhaps demand likewise of patrons eager to explore special collections:

I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.

See, fire, such as the burning of candles even for the innocent purpose of generating reading light, always and still poses a grave threat to the library.  But that threat is second, Fiona said, to the ravages of water, which might be needed to put out a fire.  Mold begets hungry bugs, who don't stop when they reach paper.  Not even bottled H2O is permitted to today's readers, who must exit the library to slake their thirst.

Shhhhh!  Silence in the stacks, please.