Torts I, Page 278–281

Gentry v. Douglas Hereford Ranch, Inc.

Supreme Court of Montana, 1998

Facts:

Defendant Bacon was planning to hunt deer on his grandmother-in-law's ranch, while his wife and a friend, plaintiff's wife Barbara Gentry, painted inside the house. Defendant got his rifle out of his truck and was walking to the house when Gentry cane out to get a radio from the truck. Defendant stumbled on the steps to the house's deck and discharged his rifle, killed Gentry. Plaintiff then sued Bacon, his grandmother-in-law, and the cattle company that leased part of the ranch. Defendant did not attribute the steps to his tripping, but rather his own clumsiness, as he did not remember what caused him to stumble.

Procedural History:

Bacon sought bankruptcy protection and was voluntarily dismissed from the case. The trial court judge entered summary judgment in favor of the ranch company, and plaintiff appealed.

Issue:

Did the District Court err when it concluded as a matter of law that the ranch company defendants were not negligent?

Plaintiff's Argument:

Defendant was negligent in his handling of the gun. The other plaintiffs were negligent by failing to maintain the stairs to the deck adjoining the house in a reasonably safe condition. The bottom stair was unstable and the area leading to it was cluttered by debris, including a drain pipe, electric wires, and rocks.

Rule:

In an action for negligence, a plaintiff must produce evidence from which it can be reasonably inferred that negligent conduct on the part of the defendant or its agents was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries.

Reasoning:

Plaintiff couldn't produce evidence that shows defendant caused plaintiff's wife's injuries.

Holding:

The District Court did not err when it held that the defendants were not negligent in a matter that contributed to Gentry's death. Affirmed.

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