Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A Headstone In Granite

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has held that a city has no duty to care for the headstones of those interred in the city burial ground

Town operates the Granite Town Cemetery as a benefit to the community. Town sells cemetery plots to individuals who are responsible for the burial of their decedents. Those individuals also purchase and are responsible for the placement of the monuments and headstones on the cemetery plots.

Mother and Son attended a funeral at the Granite Town Cemetery. During their visit, Son played near the graves of Amanda Bryan and James Bryan. Ms. Bryan was interred in 1918, and Mr. Bryan was interred in 1927. Son came in contact with the Bryans' headstone, and the headstone fell over, injuring Son.

The court here reversed the decision of the Court of Civil Appeals, which had reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendant

We hold Town owed no duty to Son with regard to the headstone placed on the Bryans' cemetery plot. Town did not own the headstone belonging to the Bryans and therefore had no duty to maintain or inspect it. To hold otherwise would impose a duty on Town (and other publicly owned cemeteries) to maintain every headstone installed in a cemetery into perpetuity. We affirm the district court's judgment.

Location, location, location

The alleged defect--the headstone--was not placed by Town near a walkway belonging to Town. Rather, the headstone was placed on the easement belonging to the purchaser of the cemetery plot. This matter is also not as in Moran wherein we noted that the defendant could be held responsible for an injury that occurred for not acquiring knowledge of the condition of its uncovered sewer manhole; the headstone at issue did not belong to Town. 2003 OK 57, ΒΆ 10, 77 P.3d at 592. Even more, unlike in McCathern and Moran, the record before us fails to establish that any defect in the headstone was known by Town or would have been discovered by Town upon inspection.

Whether Town was exempt from liability under [governmental immunity] is not determinative of whether Town had a duty to inspect the headstone. Instead, Town had no duty to inspect the headstone because it was not owned, placed, or controlled by Town.

(Mike Frisch)

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