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Hayes v. Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

January 28, 2019

Rhondra Hayes, Plaintiff,
Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, d/b/a Carowinds, Defendant.


         Plaintiff Rhondra Hayes alleges that she fell and suffered serious injuries after stepping into a depressed section of the parking lot at Carowinds Amusement Park on July 12, 2014. (ECF No. 1-1 at 3 ¶ 5-¶ at 1.) Hayes further alleges that Defendant Cedar Fair Entertainment Company (“CFEC”), the owner of Carowinds, failed to maintain adequately safe conditions on its premises, failed to warn of any safety hazards on its premises, and failed to place warning signs around hazardous areas. (Id. at 2.)

         This matter is before the court on CFEC's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 24.) Hayes opposes the Motion in its entirety. (ECF No. 25.) For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES CFEC's Motion for Summary Judgment.


         “Carowinds is a 400-acre (160 ha) amusement park, located adjacent to Interstate 77 in Charlotte, North Carolina.” Carowinds, (last visited Jan. 24, 2019). “Although having an official North Carolina address, the park is located on the state line of the Carolinas, with a portion of the park also located in Fort Mill, South Carolina.” Id.

         Hayes visited Carowinds on July 12, 2014. (ECF Nos. 24 at 2, 25 at 2.) Upon arrival, she backed her vehicle into a parking spot in a lot owned and operated by CFEC. (ECF Nos. 25-1 at 9:4-24, 25-2 at 6:5-8.) Before entering Carowinds, Hayes while near the back of her vehicle unknowingly stepped into a depression extending from the curb toward the back of her parking spot, turned her ankle, and fell to the ground. (ECF No. 25-1 at 2:7-10, 3:7-10, 5:2-12.) After the accident, Hayes walked around the park for awhile, but eventually left to pursue medical care wherein she was diagnosed with a hairline fracture. (Id. at 5:15-25, 6:3-11.) Thereafter, Hayes contacted CFEC about the incident and her injuries. (ECF No. 25-2 at 6:13-24.)

         Edward Bailey, a safety manager at Carowinds, spoke with Hayes and he looked for the depression described by Plaintiff. (Id.; see also Id. at 7:2-21.) However, Bailey inspected and photographed the wrong area of the parking lot and failed to take any additional measures to determine where Hayes was injured, including checking the parking lot's video surveillance of the area before records were removed. (Id. at 10:7-12:7.) In addition, in or around November or December 2014, Carowinds demolished the parking lot without either first measuring/photographing the depression or notifying Hayes or her counsel. (Id.; ECF No. 25-4 at 2:10-21.)

         On June 2, 2017, Hayes filed a Complaint against CFEC in the York County (South Carolina) Court of Common Pleas alleging claims for negligence, negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention for her injuries arising out of incident at Carowinds. (ECF No. 1-1.) CFEC removed the action to this court on July 24, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) After the parties engaged in discovery, CFEC moved for summary judgment on October 5, 2018. (ECF No. 24.) Hayes filed a Memorandum in Opposition to CFEC's Motion for Summary Judgment on October 17, 2018, to which CFEC filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition to Summary Judgment on October 24, 2018. (ECF Nos. 25, 28.) On December 4, 2018, the court heard oral argument from the parties on the instant Motion. (ECF No. 37.)


         The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) based on CFEC's allegations that there is complete diversity of citizenship between it[1] and Hayes, who is allegedly a citizen of the State of South Carolina. (ECF No. 1 at 1-2 ¶ 4; see also ECF No. 1-1 at 3 ¶¶ 1, 2.) Moreover, the court is satisfied that the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of Seventy-Five Thousand ($75, 000.00) Dollars, exclusive of interest and costs. (ECF Nos. 1 at 2 ¶ 9 & 1-1 at 4 ¶ 8.)


         A. Motions for Summary Judgment Generally

         Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A genuine question of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record, the court finds that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Newport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City Vision, 650 F.3d 423, 434 (4th Cir. 2011).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123-24 (4th Cir. 1990). The non-moving party may not oppose a motion for summary judgment with mere allegations or denial of the movant's pleading, but instead must “set forth specific facts” demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). All that is required is that “sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         B. Premises Liability Negligence Actions Generally

         To assert liability based on a negligence claim in South Carolina, a plaintiff must show that (1) defendant owed a duty of care; (2) defendant breached this duty by a negligent act or omission; (3) defendant's breach was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries; and (4) plaintiff suffered injury or damages. Dorrell v. S.C. DOT, 605 S.E.2d 12, 15 (S.C. 2004) (citation omitted). “Whether the law recognizes a particular duty is an issue of law to be determined by the court.” Jackson v. Swordfish Inv., L.L.C., 620 S.E.2d 54, 56 (S.C. 2005) (citation omitted).

         A landowner is not required to maintain premises in such condition that no accident could happen to a patron using them. See Denton v. Winn-Dixie Greenville, Inc., 439 S.E.2d 292, 293 (S.C. 1993). Under South Carolina law, the owner of property owes business visitors or invitees[2] the duty of exercising reasonable and ordinary care for their safety and is liable for any injuries resulting from a breach of such duty. H.P. Larimore v. Carolina Power & Light, 531 S.E.2d 535, 538 (S.C. Ct. App. 2000) (citing Israel v. Carolina Bar-B-Que, Inc., 356 S.E.2d 123, 128 (S.C. Ct. App. 1987)). The landowner has a duty to warn an invitee only of latent or hidden dangers of which the landowner is on actual or constructive notice. H.P. Larimore, 531 S.E.2d at 538 (citing Callander v. Charleston Doughnut Corp., 406 S.E.2d 361, 362-63 (S.C. 1991)).

         To recover damages for injuries caused by a dangerous or defective condition on a landowner's premises, a plaintiff must show that (1) the injury was caused by a specific act of the defendant which created the dangerous condition, or (2) that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and failed to remedy it.[3]Wintersteen v. Food Lion, Inc., 542 S.E.2d 728, 729 (S.C. 2001) (citing Anderson v. Racetrac Petroleum, Inc., 371 S.E.2d 530 ...

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