Steinke v. Poppe (Duty to Report)

In Steinke v. Poppe (2019AP002028), the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held Poppe did not owe Steinke a duty to warn Steinke about the poor condition of his septic tank’s cover or to take other action to prevent him from falling through the cover into the tank.


Steinke hired Scott Poppe of Scott’s Septic Pumping, LLC (“Poppe”) on two occasions to pump his home’s septic tank. The first time, Poppe noted that the tank’s lid was rusty and he warned Steinke that he should get it replaced. The second time he did not say anything.

About a month later, Steinke went for a walk on his property, stepped on the septic tank lid, and fell through. He was stuck in the tank approximately five and a half hours and experienced trauma as a result. He preceded to sue Poppe for not warning him.


The circuit court ruled for Poppe, holding that Poppe was hired to pump Steinke’s septic tank, not inspect it. As such, he owed no duty to warn Steinke about the condition of the lid on the tank. The court of appeals affirmed, though it first analyzed industry custom, the county’s  septic system ordinance, and general common law to see if any imposed a foreseeable duty. The court found they did not.