Monday, May 11, 2009


     Mailboxes seem to come in all shapes and sizes these days.  Some are decorative and festive, while others are functional and utilitarian.  When it comes to mailboxes, we generally have a wide variety of styles and types from which to choose.  Did you ever think, though, that your choice of a mailbox could subject you to liability for an accident that occurs on the street in front of your house?  According to a recent decision issued by the Indiana Court of Appeals, that may be a very real possibility.  

     James and Erica Sparks lived on a rural, two-lane road outside of Pekin.  They erected a brick mailbox on their property, placing it three feet from the roadway.  The road in front of their house is straight, with no obstruction of sight lines, and the Sparkses had no knowledge of any accident ever having occurred there.  

     On August 22, 2005, Barbara White was driving on the roadway in front of the Sparkses' house.  For unexplained reasons, she lost control of  her vehicle and left her lane of travel, crossed the other lane, drove off the road, and then smashed into the brick mailbox support on the Sparkses' property.  She was injured in the accident.  Subsequently, she filed a lawsuit against James and Erica Sparks in the Washington County Superior Court. 

     In her suit, White alleged that the property owners "were negligent in maintaining an unreasonably dangerous mailbox on their property," and that she suffered injuries as a result.  She contended that the property owners owed her a legal duty not to erect or construct objects in close proximity to the highway that could impose an unreasonable risk of harm to the traveling public.  

     The Sparkses moved for summary judgment, asking that the case be dismissed.   Their motion was denied by the Judge of the Washington Superior Court, and the Indiana Court of Appeals recently affirmed the denial.  

     The Court of Appeals held that the Sparkses may, in fact, be held liable for their allegedly dangerous mailbox, and that there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to conclude that they should have foreseen the possibility that a passing motorist would crash into it.  The court noted that the plaintiff had designated evidence tending to show that the mailbox was bigger and stronger than it needed to be.  The judges held that there is a factual issue as to whether the mailbox presented an unreasonable risk of harm to the traveling public.  

     This case is a bit of a head-scratcher to me, but it is no surprise that our courts seem to be always willing to expand recovery possibilities for plaintiffs. There's no word yet on whether the case will be appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, or whether it will be tried to a jury.  I'll let you know if I find out anything further.  

     For now, I would advise you to keep a close lookout for those dangerous mailboxes.  

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