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Hughes v. School District of Aurora

Supreme Court of Nebraska

February 6, 2015

JOHN HUGHES, APPELLANT,
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF AURORA, NEBRASKA, A NEBRASKA POLITICAL SUBDIVISION, APPELLEE

Page 591

Appeal from the District Court for Hamilton County: MICHAEL J. OWENS, Judge.

Tina M. Marroquin, of Pollack & Ball, L.L.C., for appellant.

Andrea D. Snowden and Robert B. Seybert, of Baylor, Evnen, Curtiss, Grimit & Witt, L.L.P., for appellee.

HEAVICAN, C.J., CONNOLLY, STEPHAN, McCORMACK, MILLER-LERMAN, and CASSEL, JJ. WRIGHT, J., participating on briefs.

OPINION

Page 592

[290 Neb. 48] Connolly, J.

SUMMARY

John Hughes tripped and fell while exiting a building owned by the School District of Aurora, Nebraska (District). Hughes sued the District, alleging that the District failed to maintain sufficient lighting, failed to construct a handrail along an exit [290 Neb. 49] ramp, allowed a section of concrete to " heave," and allowed a concrete bench to obstruct the path of egress. The court sustained the District's motion for summary judgment because Hughes did not " know" what caused him to fall. Because reasonable minds could draw contrary conclusions from the evidence, we reverse.

BACKGROUND

Factual Background

The District operates a middle school in Aurora. The north side of the building has an " entrance-exit" consisting of a pair of exterior doors, a " vestibule area," and a pair of interior doors. The exterior doors open to a landing that transitions into a concrete ramp running north and south. " Sloping sides (ramp like) flank the ramp on the east and west." The ramp terminates at a driveway, running east and west, that separates the middle and high schools. A concrete bench is anchored outside the doors. The bench sits to the west of the ramp and about 4 feet from the ramp's edge.

On October 15, 2009, Hughes went to the middle school in Aurora to watch his daughter compete in a varsity volleyball match. The varsity match started about 7 p.m., but Hughes arrived at 5 or 5:30 p.m. to watch the junior varsity match. Hughes' wife drove their vehicle to the game and parked it along the driveway between the middle and high schools, at a point west of the terminus of the ramp. Hughes testified that " [i]t was daylight still" when he arrived. Hughes entered the middle school through the north doors.

Hughes estimated that the varsity match ended " a little bit after nine o'clock." After the match ended, Hughes lingered to congratulate the players and talk to other spectators. Hughes testified that it was 9:15 or 9:30 p.m. when he exited the building.

Walking alone, Hughes exited the middle school through the north doors. His wife and father-in-law, who had accompanied him to the match, had already made it back to the vehicle. Hughes testified that " [i]t was dark, very dark" when he left the building, too dark for him to see the bench. Hughes testified that there were some lights inside the vestibule and [290 Neb. 50] just outside the doors. An ambulance parked along the driveway also emitted some light.

Hughes testified that after he passed through the north doors, his progress was stopped by a crowd of 8 to 15 people standing on the ramp and preventing him

Page 593

from continuing down the ramp to the driveway. The bench was southwest of where Hughes testified the crowd was located. Hughes explained that to avoid the crowd, he " turned around," " walked back," and " made the right-hand turn." That is, Hughes testified that he walked to the south and west. Hughes stated that as he did so, " I was looking ahead of me to ...


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