A slippery floor can be a real hazard but even the slickest surface, for all its danger, doesn’t cause every problem. The Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit made that clear in a recent decision involving a CVS Pharmacy in Metairie, Louisiana.
Georgia Clesi and her husband, John Ellis, were visiting the CVS store when John slipped on an unknown liquid while he was walking to the store’s bathroom. Not long after falling at CVS John and his wife filed a lawsuit against the store seeking a reward of damages for his injuries. John sustained only minor personal injuries at the time of his slip and fall. However, while the lawsuit was still pending he unfortunately died after succumbing to cirrhosis. Georgia, beset by the tragic loss of her husband, amended the couple’s lawsuit for damages against CVS on the theory that John’s fall triggered significant injury and illness and the store was therefore responsible for John’s wrongful death.
The case proceeded to trial wherein John’s doctor, Dr. Parnell, testified that John suffered from MRSA – a chronic bacterial infection – as the result of an earlier hip surgery. The injuries from the fall, according to Dr. Parnell, could have caused the infection to become active again. To further bolster the case John’s widow Georgia also tried to submit various articles from medical journals that she believe supported their position. However, those medical journals were found to be inadmissible hearsay by the trial court and therefore the court would not consider the veracity of the claims contained within. See LA Code Ev 802 .
CVS viewed John and Georgia’s claims in an entirely different manner. The company presented its own medical experts who pointed to John’s death certificate, which named cirrhosis – a liver disease – as the cause of death. The cirrhosis, they said, was caused by long term heavy alcohol use and not by John’s fall. Georgia, as John’s main caregiver, argued that John’s alcohol intake only increased very late in his life as he became increasingly sicker.
Although the trial court recognized that Georgia had personal knowledge of John’s behavior and symptoms, the court noted that any conclusion of medical causation that goes beyond mere common knowledge requires expert testimony – the opinions of doctors. See Lasha v. Olin Corp., 625 So.2d 1002, 1005 (La. 1993). For this reason, the trial court dismissed the wrongful death claim, which Georgia appealed.
The appeals court agreed with the reasoning of the lower court: Georgia needed expert medical evidence to prove that John’s injuries from his fall caused his MRSA infection to become so serious as to cause fatal cirrhosis. CVS offered expert medical evidence that John died of cirrhosis, caused by excessive alcohol use that began before he slipped in the store. The fall was simply too remote in time and cause to be considered a factor in his death. For this reason, the appeals court upheld the decision and ruled in favor of CVS, denying Georgia’s wrongful death claim
While John’s death was tragic, it was ultimately unrelated to the wet floor in CVS. This case is a reminder about being careful on a slippery surface, but is even more of a lesson in the importance of thorough, credible medical opinions offered by doctors in the context of such serious litigation. The best wrongful death lawyers know that when it comes to experts you must come to trial loaded with the top professionals in their respective fields of expertise to advocate on your behalf.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer Patrick Bigsby
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