Sallee v. Stewart Finally Laid to Rest?

April 23, 2015
Kristine A. Tidgren

In 2013, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the Iowa Recreational Use Statute did not bar a negligence action brought by a parent chaperone against dairy farmers giving a gratuitous farm tour to a kindergarten class. The dairy farmers had invited the kindergarten class to tour their farm to learn about a “typical day on the farm.” While touring the hayloft, a chaperone stood on a bale of hay covering a hole in the loft floor. The bale gave way, she fell through the hole, and she broke her leg. The chaperone then filed a negligence action against the farmers. The farmers defended on the grounds that they were protected from liability because they had no duty to the chaperone under the Iowa Recreational Use Statute, Iowa Code ch. 461C. After the farmers prevailed at the district and appellate court levels, the Supreme Court reversed.

In Sallee v. Stewart, 827 N.W.2d 128 (Iowa 2013), the Court found that a field trip to a dairy farm was not a covered “recreational purpose” under Iowa Code ch 461C. The statute, the Court ruled, specifically listed those recreational activities—such as hunting—for which landowners owed participants only a limited duty of care. The Court noted that the statute did not contain a catch-all provision to extend the protection to activities not found on that list. The Court stated that it was only the Iowa Legislature, and not the Court, that could expand the definition of “recreational purpose.” The Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court for a trial on the merits.

In response to Sallee v. Stewart, the Iowa Legislature immediately amended Iowa Code ch. 461C, to extend the protections granted to those opening their property for recreational use. Specifically, the amendment expanded the definition of “recreational purpose” to include educational activities and the related activities of chaperones.

Meanwhile, Sallee v. Stewart wound its way back to district court, where a jury found in favor of the dairy farmers. The jury determined that the farmers were not negligent and that they did not cause the chaperone’s injuries.

Yesterday, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed that verdict. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict. As such, even without the statute's protection, the dairy farmers are not liable to the chaperone. Because this affirmance was fairly straightforward, it is not likely that the case will again go to the Iowa Supreme Court. If that’s true, this marks the final chapter of Sallee v. Stewart and most likely the last case governed by the old recreational use statute.

Sallee v. Stewart, No. 14-0734 (Iowa Ct. App. April 22, 2015)

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