Articles Posted in Slip and Fall Injuries

modernist-hospital-facade-1223549-768x1024Generally, when an accident occurs on a property that is the result of the property owner’s negligence, it is presumed that the property owner is liable for the person’s injury. However, when liability does not exist, a motion for summary judgment is a procedural device that the defendant in a lawsuit can use to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim. Under Louisiana law, a motion for summary judgment will be granted if the pleadings and discovery show there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the party seeking summary judgment is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See La. C.C.P. art. 966.

A trip-and-fall case offers an example of a defendant’s successful use of summary judgment. On October 11, 2007, James Dawson tripped and fell on the sidewalk near the entrance to Charity Hospital in New Orleans. He tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and suffered injuries as a result. Contending the State of Louisiana, as the owner of the hospital, was liable for failing to maintain the sidewalk, Dawson filed a lawsuit.

The State moved for a motion for summary judgment. In its motion, the State disputed Dawson’s allegation that it had authority over the sidewalk where his injuries occurred, arguing that without proof of authority, it could not be liable for Dawson’s injuries. See La. R.S. 9:2800. The State supported its motion with affidavits from Frederick L. Wetekamm, an engineer for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and Robert J. Arnould, a maintenance supervisor for Charity Hospital. Wetekamm explained that the State was only responsible for maintaining its right-of-way on Tulane Avenue which began two blocks beyond the hospital. Arnold stated that Charity Hospital maintenance staff conducted no activities affecting the condition of the sidewalk in front of the hospital.

57-Email-3-26-19-1024x633Imagine shopping for flooring on a Saturday.  The store is crowded and the samples of luxury vinyl tile are starting to all look the same.  The flooring store has graciously placed a bench in the showroom. Much to everyone’s embarrassment, however, the bench collapses under the weight of a patron.  Who is responsible for the injuries both to pride and physical body in this situation? For one Gretna, Louisiana woman, a lack of evidence on the cause of the malfunction caused her lawsuit to collapse as well.  

Schirelle Wiltz was at the Gretna Floor & Decor when the bench she rested upon suddenly collapsed.  The bench had been in the store without incident for two years prior to Ms. Wiltz’s accident. The bench apparently had a hidden manufacturing defect in the metal frame unbeknownst to Floor & Decor.  Ms. Wiltz filed a lawsuit in the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court in the Parish of Jefferson alleging that Floor & Decor was negligent in failing to discover the bench’s defect and in failing to warn that the bench had a 300-pound weight limit.  The District Court dismissed the lawsuit, and Ms. Wiltz appealed to the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.

In a negligence case involving a dangerous defect, the injured party must show the dangerous item was in the custodian’s control, had a defect possessing an unreasonable risk of harm which caused damage, and the custodian knew or should have known about the defect.  See La. C.C. art. 2317.1.  In a case involving a merchant, an injured party must prove the merchant’s premises contained a foreseeable, unreasonable risk of harm, merchant knew or should have known of the danger, and merchant failed to exercise reasonable care.  See Thomas v. Caesars Entm’t Operating Co., 106 So.3d 1279 (La. Ct. App. 2013).  An injured party must also prove the standard elements of a negligence case.  Collins v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc., 182 So.3d 324 (La. Ct. App. 2015).

link-30-email-3-26-19-1024x683Slip and fall cases seem to go with grocery stores like peanut butter goes with jelly.  With all that slick inventory, it is surprising there are not more accidents. Who is responsible for injuries from these accidents?  As with many legal issues, it is complicated. For one man out of Slidell, a lack of evidence caused his case to fall flat and release the grocery store from all liability.        

 John Nash slipped on some rice and fell one August day while shopping at Rouse’s Market in Slidell.   Approximately five to ten minutes prior to the fall, a Rouse’s Market’s floor maintenance employee swept the aisle where Mr. Nash fell. A vendor stocking that same aisle verified the floor was swept at that time.  A floor manager’s inspection report confirms that the aisle was inspected minutes before the incident and no substances were discovered on the floor. Yet Mr. Nash filed a lawsuit against the supermarket. The lawsuit, however, was dismissed by the Judicial District Court for the Parish of St. Tammany.   The District Court agreed with Rouse’s Market’s defense that the store did not have actual or constructive notice of the condition causing the fall. Mr. Nash appealed to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal.

In Louisiana, a merchant owes a duty to persons using their premises to keep the aisles, floors, passages, in a reasonably safe condition.  La. R.S. 9:2800.6(A).  In addition, an injured party must prove that the condition causing the injury posed a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm, and the merchant had actual or constructive notice of the danger and failed to exercise care in removing the danger.  See Mills v. Cyntreniks Plaza LLC, 182 So.3d 80 (La. Ct. App. 2015).   In the absence of actual notice of an unreasonably dangerous condition, an injured party must show the dangerous condition existed for some period of time before the fall and that such time was sufficient to place the merchant on notice of its existence. See Clark v. J-H-J., Inc.,  136 So.3d 815 (La. Ct. App. 2013).   There is not an explicit rule on how much time is a sufficient amount of time to have put the merchant on notice; instead, the facts of each case are weighed.  

image-2-1024x683While running errands all day, to the cleaners and the grocery store, the last thing on one’s mind is getting hurt along the way. Proving fault for an injury can sometimes be more of a pain than the injury itself. Collecting evidence like pictures or eye witness reports is the last thing you want to do after suffering a fall, but to prove your case in court, it is necessary. Failure to do so can result in not only the pain from your injury but also the bill.

In Kenner, Louisiana, Mary Upton went to get groceries with her husband. She entered Rouse’s grocery store after seeing an advertisement for the sale of watermelons. She walked around the display to find a good watermelon. As she stepped over to pick one up, she unknowingly placed her foot into the pallet openings under the box. She turned to show her husband the watermelon she had picked, but he told her he did not want that watermelon. Mrs. Upton turned back to return the watermelon to the box and as she stepped away from the display, she twisted her foot within the pallet and fell.

Mrs. Upton sued for damages of her injury. Rouse’s, along with their insurer Liberty Mutual, motioned for summary judgment on the basis that Mrs. Upton did not meet her burden of proof or provide any evidence that the grocery store acted without reasonable care. The trial court granted the motion and Mrs. Upton appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the summary judgment, effectively ending Mrs. Upton’s case.

foot-bridge-1364767-1024x685Selling a home can be a stressful time with many issues to consider. You want to make sure you are getting a fair price and that the home appeals to potential buyers. One aspect you might overlook is potential liability for injuries that occur when potential buyers tour your home.

While touring a home in Bossier City’s Oak Alley neighborhood, Plaintiff’s Tammy Todd and Terr Michael Todd were shown an unfinished space above a garage. While walking down the steps, Mrs. Todd twisted her ankle at the landing, forcing her to have foot and ankle surgery and follow-up physical therapy. Mrs. Todd decided to file a lawsuit because she felt because the landing threshold was unsafe it created an unreasonably dangerous condition in the home.

Multiple summary judgments, were filed by the Defendants, in this case, each concerning the question of whether the landing was maintained in an unreasonably dangerous condition. In the first summary judgment, between the Plaintiffs and the Home Builders Association of Northwestern Louisiana (“HBA”), the court found that the condition was not maintained in an unreasonable way and granted summary judgment in favor of HBA. The second summary judgment, between Plaintiff’s and Mr. Angel (the homeowner), also found that the landing was not maintained in an unreasonable condition. Finally, HBA and their insurer, Ohio Casualty, filed a second summary judgment and used the trial court’s reasoning from Mr. Angel’s case to make a showing that the landing was not maintained in an unreasonable condition. Plaintiffs appealed the second summary judgment between HBA and Plaintiffs.

the-gas-station-1526346-768x1024Under Louisiana law, store owners can be held liable for damages if a customer is injured by an unsafe condition while visiting the premises. In November, 2011, Henry Moore, Jr. visited the Murphy Oil gas station and convenience store in Hammond, Louisiana. After making his purchases at the store’s counter, Moore started back toward his car when his foot came in contact with a black plastic pallet supporting a display of bottled water. Moore tripped and stumbled, but didn’t fall to the ground. He then reported the incident to manager on duty. After the incident, when Moore began to suffer back pain, Murphy Oil agreed to pay for Moore’s medical treatment. When Murphy Oil stopped paying for Moore’s treatment after approximately four months, Moore filed a lawsuit for damages, alleging that the water display created an unreasonably dangerous condition.

In Louisiana, merchants are required to exercise reasonable care to protect those who enter the premises.  This duty extends to keeping the premises safe from unreasonable risks of harm and warning customers of known dangers. See La. R.S. 9:2800.6. Courts have adopted a four-part balancing test to determine whether a condition is unreasonably dangerous. One part of the test involves determining whether the defective condition was “open and obvious.” In general, if a hazard in open and obvious, a defendant does not have a duty to protect against the hazard. See Hutchinson v. Knights of Columbus, 866 So. 2d 228, 235 (La. 2004).

The trial court, holding that the question of whether the bottled water display created an unreasonably dangerous condition was a factual dispute, denied Murphy Oil’s motion for summary judgment and set the matter for trial. Moore agreed to a $50,000 damages cap, and the court based its ruling on a contributory negligence spectrum. The court found that Moore was 25% at fault for his injuries and was awarded a judgment for $37,500 against Murphy Oil. Murphy Oil appealed, arguing both that the trial court erred when denying its motion for summary judgment, and that the trial court should have subtracted the medical expenses it had already paid when determining Moore’s award.

hole-1576687-1-658x1024Determining liability when someone is injured on someone else’s property is a complex endeavor. One of the major factors is determining whether the injury resulted from an unreasonably dangerous condition.

While a new In & Out Express Car Wash was being built in Metairie, LA, local business owner Mr. Frederick Helwig fell into a hole, sustaining injuries. Mr. Helwig was well aware of the construction going on, as he owned the business next door and had watched the construction progress for 6 months. When Mr. Helwig was injured, he was crossing the construction site at 10:30PM and did not use a flashlight or any sort of illumination to light his way.

The injured Mr. Frederick Helwig had the burden of proof to establish liability, that In & Out Express Car Wash (1) had a duty to conform conduct to a specific standard, (2) that the defendant failed to conform to the standard, (3) that the defendant’s conduct in failing to live up to the standard caused plaintiff’s injuries, (4) that the defendant’s conduct was a legal cause of plaintiff’s injuries, and (5) that the plaintiff has proof of the actual damages done to them. See Detraz v. Lee, 950 So. 2d 557, 565 (La. 2007).  Specific to the case of a dangerous condition on land, the injured Mr. Helwig had to prove that the hole was in In & Out Express Car Wash’s control, it presented an unreasonable risk of harm, that the defendant knew or should have known of the unreasonable risk, and that the damage was caused by In & Out Express Car Wash. See Babino v. Jefferson Transit, 110 So. 3d 1123, 1126 (La. Ct. App. 2013). At the crux of this case, the injured Mr. Helwig had to prove that the danger, the hole in the ground, was not open and obvious. Even if the hole was unreasonably dangerous, in that it would injury anyone who fell in it, there will be no liability if the dangerous or defective condition is obvious and apparent. See Bufkin v. Felipe’s La., LLC, 171 So. 3d 851, 856 (La. 2014).

37-Email-03-03-19-1024x986Generally, individuals expect that when on the premises of a public entity, the land has been safely maintained and there is a low risk of becoming injured. If an individual did become injured, he or she would expect to be reasonably compensated for any injuries. However, in Louisiana, premises liability law differs from the law that is applied when suing a private landowner. As this case shows, establishing that a defect causes an unreasonable risk of harm is a difficult obstacle to overcome when suing a public entity and can leave injured parties with no compensation for their injuries.

A man who was seriously injured on the property Ville Platte Housing Authority (VPHA) was not allowed to recover damages for his injuries. Marcushawn Smith, the injured man, was walking on the grass when he fell and seriously injured his ankle in a six inch wide and more than four-inch deep hole on VPHA’s property. Mr. Smith filed a lawsuit against the VPHA, the Louisiana Housing Council, Inc., and FARA Insurance Services, Inc. to recover compensation for his injuries. The Louisiana Housing Council and FARA Insurance were later dismissed from the case. At the trial court in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the judge decided the hole that Mr. Smith fell in did not create an unreasonable risk of harm, dismissing Mr. Smith’s claim against VPHA. Mr. Smith appealed this judgment to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, arguing that because he fell and was seriously injured, the trial court committed legal error by finding that the hole did not create an unreasonable risk of harm.

On appeal, the judge relied on a 2012 Louisiana Supreme Court case which stated that states that in order to recover for damages, the injured party must establish five facts: (1) the public entity had ownership of the defective thing; (2) the defect created an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) the public entity was or should have been aware of the defect; (4) the public entity failed to fix the defect in a reasonable time; and (5) the defect is the cause of the complainant’s injury. See Chambers v. Village of Moreauville, 85 So.3d 593, 597 (La. 2012). Usually, as was the case here, the second criteria is the hardest for an injured party to overcome.

33-post-photo-1024x683Rain and a slick, tiled entryway are typically a bad combination. A recent Louisiana slip and fall case involved this exact scenario.

It had been steadily raining all day, and Allen Court Apartments resident James King left the building at night to go get dinner. Approximately a half hour later, King slipped and fell on the entryway of his apartment building, breaking his leg. King subsequently filed a lawsuit against the apartment building, the building’s insurance company, and the property managers for damages due to his injury.

Denying liability for King’s injury, the defendants motioned for summary judgment on the grounds that there was no defect in the apartment building King could point to and that he lacked causal connection between the defect and his injuries. The trial court granted the summary judgment motion stating that there was no genuine issue of material fact. King’s lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning the case was permanently over and King couldn’t bring it back into court. King appealed the trial court’s decision.

shaking-hands-1240911-1024x768Leasing agreements often are complex and lengthy, especially in a commercial context. A common provision contained in most leasing agreements is an indemnity provision. An indemnity provision is a section in a leasing agreement that requires the leasee (the person who leases the property) to take responsibility for certain lawsuits involving the leased property. A recent decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeal for Louisiana illustrates the power of an indemnity provision.

The case revolves around a leased commercial building located in Bastrop, Louisiana. The building’s owner, Hollis Charles Larche, entered into a leasing agreement with Paul Eikert. Mr. Eikert obtained the lease in order to open up a grocery store. Contained in the lease is a provision that stated that Mr. Larche would be held harmless for any damages or injuries caused by defects on the building’s premises.

A couple of years after entering into the lease agreement, an employee of Mr. Eikert’s grocery store, Deborah Beebe, was injured while on the job. Ms. Beebe sustained her injuries after she slipped on water that came from a leak in the building’s ceiling. Ms. Beebe filed a lawsuit against Mr. Larche claiming that Mr. Larche knew of the leaking ceiling and failed to take appropriate measures to fix the leak. Mr. Larche, citing the indemnity provision contained in the leasing agreement, argued that Mr. Eikert is responsible for any damages resulting from Ms. Beebe’s injury. Mr. Eikert never responded to Mr. Larche’s claim that the indemnity provision allocated responsibility of Ms. Beebe’s injuries to Mr. Eikert. The trial court agreed, granting a default judgment on the issue for Mr. Larche. A default judgment is a judgment that a court can grant if one side in a legal matter fails to take steps to resolve the legal controversy. The default judgment is granted to the side who did take steps to resolve the legal controversy, in this case, Mr. Larche.