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Iowa Supreme Court adopts Third Restatement of Torts on several issues

An Iowa case that involved a car that swerved to avoid a disassembled trampoline that had blown into the road led the Iowa Supreme Court to adopt large portions of the Third Restatement of Torts on issues of duty of care, factual cause and proximate cause.

That Restatement, which had been approved previously, had not been published at the time of the decision on Nov. 13, 2009. It was published the following month, according to Michael Green, a Wake Forest law professor, who was a co-reporter for the Third Restatement.

According to a story in U.S. Law Week, Green characterized the court’s decision as a “courageous and forward-looking opinion,” saying it “furthers transparency and consistency in duty determinations in negligence cases.”

Green, the story said, praised the court for being “willing to give up the shroud of foreseeability for duty purposes, which has always been a security blanket for courts to reach an outcome they desired but shroud it in mystery and therefore obscure what was truly at stake.”

In the case, the injured motorist sued the couple, who had taken the trampoline apart and placed its parts in their yard some 38 feet from the road where the wind blew the trampoline bed that distracted the driver, the story said. The plaintiff’s allegations included breach of both statutory and common law duties, premised on negligently permitting the trampoline to obstruct the road. The trial court, affirmed by the court of appeals, granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, on the ground that they breached no duty — whether statutory or under common law — and that the defendants’ negligence was not the proximate cause of the claimed damages.

The state Supreme Court agreed that the defendants did not breach any statutory duty, which prohibits obstruction of any highway right-of-way. But the court, based on the Third Restatement, found that the ordinary duty of reasonable care existed based on the defendants’ conduct in creating a risk of harm in the way they stored the dissembled trampoline.