Louisiana law requires owners of businesses to use reasonable care to ensure that their parking lots, sidewalks, entryways, and other areas are safe for the public. If a customer is injured by an unsafe or defective condition, he or she must prove the following four elements in order to recover in tort: 1) the location was within the defendant’s control, 2) there was a defect which presented an unreasonable risk of harm, 3) this defective condition caused the customer’s injury, and 4) the defendant knew or should have known of the defect.
Whether the condition of the premises posed an unreasonable risk is often the most disputed matter in a slip-and-fall case. Over the years, the Louisiana courts have determined that there is no “fixed rule” for determining whether a defect presents an unreasonable risk of harm. The trier of fact must “balance the gravity and risk of harm against the individual and societal rights and obligations, the social utility, and the cost and feasibility of repair.” The courts have generally concluded that the analysis of whether a defect presents an unreasonable risk of harm encompasses “an abundance of factual findings, which differ greatly from case to case,” such that the analysis “cannot be applied mechanically.” As the parties discovered in Beckham v. The Jungle Gym, L.L.C., No. 45,325-CA (La. Ct. App. 2d Cir. 2010.), this means that, practically speaking, slip-and-fall cases are not ideally suited for resolution by summary judgment.
On October 7, 2006, Lisa Beckham took her two children to play at the Jungle Gym indoor playground in West Monroe. Upon arriving, Beckham parked her car in the “overflow” parking lot because the main parking area was full. The overflow lot was unpaved; its surface consisted of dirt, grass, rock, gravel, and chunks of crushed asphalt. When Beckham later returned to her car, she tripped on one or more large chunks of asphalt, fell to the ground, and broke her right ankle. Beckham filed suit against Jungle Gym alleging that the parking lot where she fell was unreasonably dangerous. Jungle Gym filed a motion for summary judgment in which it denied custodial responsibility and asserted that the parking lot did not pose an unreasonable risk of harm. The trial court granted Jungle Gym’s motion and dismissed Beckham’s complaint.
On appeal, the Second Circuit stated,
“whether a defect presents an unreasonable risk of harm is a mixed question of law and fact that is peculiarly a question for the jury or trier of the facts. It entails innumerable considerations; and, because it requires a balancing of the risk and utility of the condition, it is not a simple rule of law which can be applied mechanically to the facts of any particular case. … It is ‘a matter wed to the facts’ and must be determined in light of the facts and surrounding circumstances of each particular case.”
Jungle Gym’s motion for summary judgment was based on the argument that the risk Beckham encountered in the parking lot was “obvious, universally known, and easily avoidable,” and thus not unreasonably dangerous as required to impose liability. The court concluded that while a gravel parking lot’s utility is clearly known, the particular facts of this situation would have been better assessed “at a trial on the merits for the determination of whether an unreasonable risk of harm was present.” Accordingly, the court reversed the trial court’s granting of Jungle Gym’s motion for summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Following this appeal, Beckham presumably faced the challenge of presenting to the jury the facts and circumstances that demonstrated the unreasonable risk posed by the large chunks of asphalt in the Jungle Gym parking lot. A fact-intensive argument at trial, like this one, unquestionably benefits from the planning and execution of an experienced accident attorney.
If you have been injured due to an unsafe condition, call the Berniard Law Firm today toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with an attorney who can help you get the recovery you deserve.