Iowa Court of Appeals Finds Shooting on Property Was Outside Property-Owners’ Scope of Liability

Posted on: March 2nd, 2022

Lee Christenson shot and killed Thomas Bortvit on a farm owned by Roger Christenson, Lee’s uncle, and Donald Christenson, Lee’s grandfather. Bortvit’s parents sued Roger and Donald, asserting that they had failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the property from being used for the purpose of firing loaded pistols by unsupervised persons under the age of 21.

In a Motion for Summary Judgment, Roger and Donald argued they had no duty to protect Thomas from the acts of Lee, their conduct was not within the scope of liability as to any harm to Thomas, and their conduct was not the cause of the harm to Thomas. The district court granted the Motion and dismissed the case. The Bortvits appealed.

The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision, finding the shooting of Bortvit was outside Roger and Donald Christenson’s scope of liability. The court stated that while Roger and Donald had permitted unsupervised pistol shooting by underaged persons to take place on the farm on prior occasions, the cause of Thomas’s death was not target shooting but Lee’s fixed purpose to shoot Thomas. Even assuming Roger and Donald turned a blind eye to unsupervised underage target shooting on the farm, the risk of a purposeful shooting of a stranger on the farm was not among the risks arising from the recreational activity. Therefore, the court held Roger and Donald could not be held liable.

Daryl Bortvit and Sheila Bortvit, Individually and as Co-Administrators of the Estate of Thomas Lee Bortvit, and Brittany Dahl v. Donald Christensen and Roger Christensen, No. 20-1394 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 16, 2022).

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