Iowa Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Gross Negligence Claim

Posted on: December 27th, 2019

Defendant Jeffrey Clark worked for Apartments Downtown, a property-management business owned by his parents. While he did not have a formal title, Defendant’s duties included assigning workers to complete construction tasks. In April 2014, Defendant tasked Bronson Ganka and two other workers with drilling vent holes in the front of a building. The workers had access to an assortment of equipment, including a scissor lift, scaffolding, and ladders. Defendant did not direct the means or methods of how the workers’ should go about drilling the vent holes. Rather, he assumed Ganka would determine how best to accomplish the task. While Ganka was on a ladder drilling the vent holes, he fell from the ladder, landing on the pavement below. He died as a result of injuries sustained from the fall. Gonka’s wife brought a gross-negligence suit against Defendant. At trial, the jury found Defendant was grossly negligent and awarded $7 million in total damages. Defendant moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The district court granted Defendant’s motion concluding the evidence presented to the jury was insufficient to establish gross negligence under Iowa law. Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling. In support of its conclusion, the court found Plaintiff had failed to show Defendant had knowledge that injury was a probable, not just a possible, result of his actions.  The court elaborated by stating Plaintiff needed to present “more than a showing of the defendant’s actual or constructive knowledge of the ‘actuarial foreseeability’ that accidents will happen.” (Citation omitted). The evidence needed to show the Defendant “knew their actions would place their [co-employee] in imminent danger, so that someone would more likely than not be injured by the conduct.”

Garka v. Clark, No. 18-1397 (Iowa Ct. App. November 27, 2019).

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