R.I. SC rules for boy injured in pickup football game

Jessica M. Karmasek Feb. 1, 2011, 2:41pm

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - The Rhode Island Supreme Court has allowed a lawsuit against a company after a boy hurt himself playing football on its property to proceed.

The Court, in its eight-page opinion filed Jan. 21, vacated the judgment of a superior court and remanded the case.

In October 2006, Austin Hill, 12, had stumbled and cut himself on a protruding metal post on property owned by the defendant, National Grid.

Following the incident, Hill's parents filed a complaint in Providence County Superior Court, alleging the company negligently maintained its property.

The defendant, a public utility that owned the lot, argued it owed no duty to the boy because he was a trespasser on its property.

The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, determining that the plaintiffs had failed to show that the company knew or had reason to know that children were trespassing.

The plaintiffs appealed the ruling.

Associate Justice Francis X. Flaherty, who authored the high court's opinion, wrote that the plaintiffs raised "sufficient" facts from which a "reasonable" jury could conclude that the defendant knew or had reason to know trespass was likely.

The Court pointed to the deposition of Eric Gemborys, a National Grid employee, who said he looks at the property five or six times a year.

He indicated he was familiar with the area surrounding the lot, noting its exact location and that it was situated in the midst of "quite a few" residential homes.

The Court also noted that Gemborys said National Grid had a policy in place to address trespassers, saying in the event children were playing on the property, the employee who observed that activity was supposed to call the police.

"Collectively, these facts give rise to a genuine factual dispute about whether the defendant knew or had reason to know that children were likely to trespass on the lot," Flaherty wrote for the Court.

Also, according to Gemborys' deposition, monthly maintenance was done on the property -- mowing grass, removing debris, etc.

"Based on these activities by a variety of National Grid agents, a reasonable jury could conclude that defendant knew or had reason to know of the metal stakes protruding from the ground," the Court wrote.

Because there are disputed material facts from which a reasonable jury could find that the defendant knew or had reason to know that children were likely to trespass and knew or had reason to know of the potentially dangerous condition, the entry of summary judgment was improper, the Court ruled.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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