Summary Judgment Tripping Case from Baton Rouge Illustrates Court Complexities

A recent case appealed from the Parish of East Baton Rouge provides a great example not only of the potential difficulties of recovering damages for negligence from a merchant, but also of summary judgment and how it works. In November 2006, the plaintiff entered the defendant’s store, tripped on what she claims was a ‘flipped-up’ doormat, and struck her head on some shelving. She was injured as a result and tried to recover damages from the merchant, claiming that she was injured as a result of the merchant’s negligence in maintaining the premises. The trial court granted summary judgment in the merchant’s favor, and the appellate court affirmed.

If someone is injured while lawfully on a merchant’s property and wishes to recover damages for negligence from that merchant, they must meet four requirements provided by Louisiana law. The claimant must show that their injury was the result of an unreasonably dangerous condition on the merchant’s property, that the danger presented by that condition was reasonably foreseeable, that the merchant knew or should have known of the danger prior to the claimant’s accident, and that the merchant did not take reasonable steps to correct the situation.

Summary judgment is rare and requires clearing some pretty high hurdles. A court must first find that there is no genuine contention as to any facts that might influence the outcome of the case. If the court so finds, then it will simply apply the law to the relevant facts and rule in a party’s favor as a matter of law, perhaps before there is even a chance for a trial. Where the party moving for summary judgment will not bear the burden of proof at trial, for instance if that party is a merchant defending against a negligence claim, then s/he need only show the opposition’s inability to prove or disprove one or more key elements of his/her action or defense. The opposing party must then answer somehow to prove that s/he will be able to prove the element(s) in question at trial, or lose on summary judgment.

In this case, the plaintiff’s own testimony condemned her cause. She said she couldn’t remember any details of the accident, only that “[s]omething caught [her] foot” and she fell down. The plaintiff failed to present any evidence, or explain how she would be able to prove in trial, that the mat had been disturbed long enough to have been discovered through reasonable care. She also had no evidence as to the location of any store employees at the time.

The defendant, for his part, testified that the rugs were maintained on a weekly basis and that the store had never before had an incident of any patrons slipping or falling because of the rugs.

The trial court ruled against the plaintiff on summary judgment, and the appellate court confirmed that judgment, because the plaintiff failed to demonstrate an ability to prove multiple elements of her negligence claim. A good attorney can help you understand those burdens that the law may place on you in proving a given claim, and can help you avoid the wasting your time and resources picking a legal fight you can’t win.

If you would like to file a claim against someone in a court of law, please contact the Berniard Law Firm today to speak with attorneys who can evaluate and help you fight for your claim.