Premises Liability for Roadways and Walkways in West Virginia – Barb v. Shepherd University

nilPremises liability is the doctrine that individuals who own property may be responsible for injuries that occur upon such property when the owners, landlords, or managers of such property knew that a dangerous condition existed and failed to properly address it. Premises liability claims typically arise when guests, tenants, or visitors are on private property and injure themselves through a slip and fall or some other type of accident.  However, what if an individual is injured on walkways or roadways adjacent to private property, of which a private landowner or manager is also aware? A recent case in the Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia addresses this issue.

In January 2012, Kayla Barb was a student at Shepherd University in West Virginia. While crossing a crosswalk across a road bisecting the east and west campuses of Shepherd University, Ms. Barb was struck by a car and severely injured.  Shortly after the accident, she sued the driver of the car and Shepherd University itself, alleging that the University was negligent in failing to adequately warn students about the dangers of the crosswalk. She also brought a premises liability claim.

In response, Shepherd University filed a motion for summary judgment against Ms. Barb’s claims, arguing that it did not have a duty to Ms. Barb because it did not own the crosswalk where the accident happened, and, even if it did have a duty, the damages Ms. Barb experienced were because of the driver’s negligence and Ms. Barb’s own failure to pay adequate attention when crossing the crosswalk.  The trial court ultimately agreed that the school owed no duty to Ms. Barb, finding that since it did not own the exact crosswalk where the accident occurred, it was not under a duty to ensure her safety while crossing that crosswalk.  Moreover, the trial court also found that the driver’s failure to yield to Ms. Barb and Ms. Barb’s use of an iPod and cellphone at the time of the accident were intervening reasons for the injuries  and were to blame for the harm incurred.

On appeal, Ms. Barb contested both of these findings, arguing first that the school did owe a duty of care. Ms. Barb argued that Shepherd University was clearly aware that its students would be required to cross the crosswalk in order to get from the west side of campus to the east side, and by inviting them to do so, the school owed such students a duty of care while in the crosswalk under a theory of premises liability. The Court of Appeals ultimately rejected this argument, finding that it was undisputed that the owner of the crosswalk was the State of West Virginia, since the crosswalk and roadway were public property. Furthermore, the university was required to get permission from the State of West Virginia before making any changes or improvements to the crosswalk, and the State had full control over the crosswalk. Accordingly, the Court affirmed that there was no duty owed by Shepherd University to Ms. Barb when she crossed the crosswalk.

Additionally, since there was no duty, the Court determined that there was no need to consider whether the trial court’s ruling that Ms. Barb’s actions contributed to her injuries was erroneous or not. Without a duty, the claims for negligence and premises liability could not stand.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident on another’s property, and you are unsure whether you have a claim for premises liability or negligence, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia premises liability lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Open and Obvious Hazards in West Virginia Premises Liability Cases – Skaggs v. U.S.

Visitor, Trespasser, Invitee: Why Labels Matter in West Virginia Premises Liability Cases – Ragonese v. Racing Corporation of West Virginia

Conflicting Stories and “Obvious” Danger Don’t Keep Injured West Virginia Worker from Jury Trial – Kruis v. Allmine Paving