FROM LAWRENCE CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE JOHN DAVID PRESTON,
JUDGE ACTION NO. 16-CI-00273.
AND ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLANTS: Eldred E. Adams, Jr.
FOR APPELLEE: John V. Porter Joseph T. Whitaker Paintsville,
ARGUMENT FOR APPELLEE: Clayton Daniel Scott Paintsville,
BEFORE: JONES, J. LAMBERT AND THOMPSON, JUDGES.
an appeal from a summary judgment of the Lawrence Circuit
Court by a building owner whose commercial property was
destroyed when a truck parked on the property ignited and
caught the eaves of the building on fire. The issues
presented are whether the truck's owner was a trespasser
and whether he can be liable for negligence when the fire was
set by an unknown third-party.
Howard and Sherolyn Howard are the owners of property in
Lowmansville, Kentucky. At the time of the fire, the property
was leased by Bob and Diane Castle who operated a grocery
store on the property known as Family Food.
late evening of December 26, 2015, after the store closed,
Leslie Matthew Spradlin parked his truck in the store parking
lot. He left with a friend leaving a firearm, two ammo clips
and a tool box in the truck.
during the night, Spradlin's truck caught fire. The
actual cause of the fire has not been determined, although to
be clear, there is no suggestion that Spradlin set the fire
to either the truck or the store building. The Howards'
claim is that a third-party broke into Spradlin's truck,
stole the firearms, ammo clips and tool box and then burned
the truck to cover the crime. The eaves of the grocery store
caught fire and the building was entirely destroyed.
deposition testimony, Spradlin explained that his wife had
worked at the grocery store and Bob Castle was a friend. He
parked in the store lot after hours many times and believed
Bob would not object to him parking in the lot on the evening
of the fire. However, he did not have express permission of
the Howards or Castles to park in the store's lot on that
discovery, the Howards admitted that there were not any
"no trespassing signs" or "no parking"
signs on the property at the time Spradlin parked his truck.
They further admitted that they never advised Spradlin or
anyone not to park on the property after hours.
29, 2016, the Castles, in separate affidavits dated June 29,
2016, stated as follows:
That affiant further states that there were no "no
parking" signs on the premises and no other signs which
would keep persons from parking on the premises any time.
That affiant never objected to persons parking on the
premises as long as they didn't interfere with the daily
operations of the business.
The affiant states that persons often parked there after
closing hours and affiant never objected to same and felt
that the openness of the lot was good for business.
The affiant states that there were no locked gates, fences or
any other signs or other notices which would keep persons
from parking on the lot and affiant did not consider any
person, including Matthew Spradlin, to be trespassers on the
lot after closing hours and that individuals frequently
parked on the premises after closing hours and were never
considered to be trespassers[.]
August 18, 2017, the Castles again signed separate
affidavits. They repeated that there were not any "no
parking" signs in the parking lot when Spradlin parked
his truck and that, although Spradlin did not obtain
permission to park his truck on the lot the night of the
fire, "people did park there all the time."
on the above recited undisputed facts, the circuit court
granted summary judgment to Spradlin. We review its summary
judgment under a well-established standard. Under Kentucky
Rules of Civil Procedure (CR) 56.03, we must ask whether the
circuit court correctly found that there was no genuine issue
as to any material fact and the moving party was entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Because summary judgment
involves only legal questions and the existence of any
disputed material issues of fact, "an appellate court
need not defer to the trial court's decision and will
review the issue de novo." Lewis v. B &
R Corp.,56 S.W.3d 432, 436 (Ky.App. 2001). The party
opposing summary judgment must present "at least some
affirmative evidence showing that there is a genuine issue of
material fact for trial." Steelvest, Inc. v.
Scansteel Service Center, ...