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PREMISES LIABILITY: Superior Court holds motorized carts not inherently dangerous, but opens door to possible negligent entrustment actions on motorized carts

The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant Wal-Mart and the operator of the motorized cart.  The claims directed to the corporate defendant sounded in premises liability, mode of operation, and negligent entrustment.  After a bench trial on liability the court found on the mode of operation claim that it was the independent act of the operator of the motorized cart, rather than anything Wal-Mart did or did not do that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  The operator of the motorized cart was skillfully operating the cart up until the incident; the operator then reached to catch something falling from the cart and accidentally hit the forward button resulting in hitting the plaintiff in the back.  The court reasoned there is nothing particularly dangerous about motorized carts being close to other patrons and where the injury is a result of an independent negligent act of a patron which the merchant cannot reasonably be expected to see or protect against, the merchant cannot be liable.  On the negligent entrustment claim Wal-Mart’s counsel argued that negligent entrustment has only been applied to automobiles.  The court did not address whether negligent entrustment could be extended to motorized carts, finding that even if the tort applied, it had not been established because the plaintiff failed to prove any facts showing the operator of the motorized cart had a dangerous propensity or was incompetent in operating the motorized cart.   Rena M. Natale v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP et al.; No. HHBCV176039435S, May 21, 2019