Well, after a few months of having other things to occupy my time, namely these darling three month olds (Isaac & Aaden), it is time for me to renew Atkinson Conway & Gagnon’s attempt to, ahem, timely summarize the Alaska Supreme Court decisions of the week.
First up is Pebble Limited Partnership v. Parnell, S-13059/S-13060, in which the Alaska Supreme Court rejected an attempt to remove an initiative from the November ballot that will impose new requirements on mining in Alaska. The opinion has no real reasoning, as it’s actually an order with an opinion to follow, issued so that the State has time to print ballots for the election this fall. I won’t go into the arguments regarding the merits of the underlying mining initiative, but if you listen to the radio or watch TV for five minutes, you are almost sure to see ads from both sides of the issue.
The only other opinion of real interest is Edenshaw v. Safeway, Inc., S-12583, in which the Alaska Supreme Court held that to prevail on a premises liability claim in Alaska, a plaintiff does not need to show that the business owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. Instead, the Court held there was only a basic reasonableness test, in which the business owner’s notice of a dangerous condition was a factor to consider, but not a dispositive or required one. This case is a departure from prior cases in which the Alaska Supreme Court held that the State of Alaska had to have actual or constructive knowledge of a defect in a highway to be liable if that defect caused an injury. In Edenshaw, the Court distinguished these prior cases by noting that a grocery store (which was where the injury occurred in Edenshaw) is a much more tightly controlled area, and thus it was more reasonable to impose a general duty of care on the business owner regardless of whether the business owner had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition on the property.
This opinion will have a significant effect in future litigation, as business owner now can be exposed to liability for injuries caused by dangerous conditions of which they were both not aware and had no reason to be aware. It is also certain to make premises liability cases more expensive and difficult to defend, as the question of the reasonableness of an owner’s actions will almost always be a fact question. Consequently, now that a business owner cannot rely on a lack of notice, constructive or actual, to avoid liability as a matter of law, it will be very difficult to obtain summary judgment or resolution of a premises liability case short of actual trial.