The defendant owns a small farm. For two weeks each fall, the defendant stages a festival on the farm, which includes a petting zoo, a pumpkin patch, and various games and activities. The festival is open to the public for an admission fee.
The defendant provides free parking in an outlying field, which is also part of the farm, approximately one-fourth of a mile from the festival activities. Attendees can either walk to the festival from the parking area, or they can ride a shuttle, which consists of a wagon pulled by a tractor. The shuttle driver is employed by the farmer.
The deck of the wagon, where the passengers ride, is approximately three feet above the ground. The deck is an open platform, with no roof, sides, or rails. Some hay bales are placed in a single layer in the center of the deck for use as seating. There is approximately two feet of platform space between the hay bales and the edges of the wagon. Passengers who are waiting for the shuttle can watch it approaching the pickup point for approximately 200 yards before it arrives.
The plaintiff attends the festival and parks in the outlying lot. The plaintiff is physically capable of walking to the festival, but decides to take the shuttle instead. The plaintiff watches the shuttle arrive, then boards the wagon and takes a seat on one of the hay bales. As the passengers board, the driver walks alongside the wagon, stating loudly enough for everyone to hear that the passengers should stay seated in the center of the wagon so they do not fall off. The tractor then pulls the wagon at a fast walking pace along a dirt lane. The lane is fairly smooth, though it contains occasional dips and bumps.
As the wagon travels down the lane, the plaintiff bends forward to tie his shoe. This shifts the plaintiff’s weight toward the outside of the wagon. At that moment, the wagon hits a small pothole in the lane. The wagon bounces just enough to cause the plaintiff to fall over the edge of the wagon and into the path of the wheels. One of the wheels runs over the plaintiff’s leg and breaks it.
The applicable law recognizes respondeat superior liability. The law also provides that a landowner owes a duty of reasonable care toward anyone who comes on the premises.
The plaintiff sues the farmer, alleging that: (1) the farmer is strictly liable because the shuttle ride was an abnormally dangerous activity, and (2) in the alternative, the farmer was negligent for failing to provide a railing or other safety device to prevent people falling off the wagon. The farmer asserts the defense of assumption of the risk, which constitutes a complete defense to negligence under applicable law.
- Is the farmer strictly liable to the plaintiff? Explain.
- Did the farmer breach the duty of reasonable care owed to the plaintiff? Explain.
- If the farmer was negligent, did the plaintiff assume the risk so as to bar recovery? Explain, assuming that the relevant jurisdiction recognizes the defense of implied assumption of the risk.