Indiana Court Adopts Bright-Line Rule in Tyson Foods Motorcycle-Crash Case

Indiana Court Adopts Bright-Line Rule in Tyson Foods Motorcycle-Crash Case

October 19, 2021

Late last month, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that a Tyson Foods meat plant was not liable for the tall grass on the plant’s property that was said to contribute to a “catastrophic” motorcycle crash. We’ve got some background on the case as well as potential ramifications for property owners and motorists. 

Details of the Case

In August 2014, Harold Moistner pulled his vehicle into an intersection and collided with motorcyclist Walter Reece. The crash left Reece with severe brain injuries. Reece’s guardian, Judy Reece, sued Tyson Foods, Inc. in Judy Reece, as Guardian of Walter Reece, and Judy Reece v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., and Tyson Foods, Inc. She claimed that the overgrown grass on Tyson Food’s property obstructed Moistner’s view and contributed to the crash. 

The Wayne Superior Court entered a judgment summarily (i.e., without a trial) for Tyson, and in 2020 the Indiana Court of Appeals, though divided, affirmed the lower court’s decision. 

Moistner, who was 92 at the time of the crash, has since passed.

The Verdict

The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s majority rule on September 21st. The court ruled in favor of Tyson Foods because the tall grass was entirely contained in Tyson’s property. 

The judges examined previous caselaw to discern whether Tyson owed the motoring public a duty when the visual obstruction on the land was confined to the land or not. Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush explained that “Tyson owed no duty to the motoring public to avoid creating or maintaining the particular visual obstruction and therefore, could not be negligent.”

The court adopted the bright-line rule first announced in Sheley v. CrossSheley determined that landowners adjacent to a highway owe a duty to passing motorists not to create hazardous conditions on the roadways. But when the land use or condition is a visual obstruction wholly contained to the property, the landowner owes no duty to the motoring public. 

The court wrote that this ruling is “the most logical extension of Indiana precedent.” 

Other Considerations

The Indiana Supreme Court made sure to note that its ruling does not prevent local legislative bodies from implementing statutes and ordinances that restrict landowners from permitting visual obstructions on their property. Only Indiana common law imposes no such duty.

The high court also noted that the caselaw only applies to situations where the motorist does not come into contact with the visual obstruction. It does not address situations where the motorist does come into contact with them. 

Contact us if you own land and have questions about the ruling’s implications for you.