Some doors, such as bathroom doors, are heavy and have quick automatic closing mechanisms attached. If a door of that nature hits you in the back on your way and knocks you down, who is liable? The following case out of New Orleans shows how courts deal with door-closing mechanisms and trip-and-fall lawsuits.
In 2011, Gail Encalade visited her insurance agent’s office in an office building on General DeGaulle. Before leaving, she pushed the restroom door open without issue and entered the bathroom. When exiting, she pulled the restroom door, and the door began to close behind her. As it was closing, she alleged it hit her on the back, causing her to fall forward, sustaining injuries to her shoulder and face.
In April of 2012, Encalade sued for damages, America First Insurance Company (AFIC) and other defendants were negligent in failing to maintain safe public areas, that being the restroom specifically. She argued the AFIC should have known of the problems with the doorways and the door equipment. AFIC answered the lawsuit by filing a motion for summary judgment.
Under La. C.C.P. art. 966(B)(2), a court should grant summary judgment when there is no genuine dispute of any material fact. AFIC alleged in their summary judgment motion that Encalade could have prevented the accident if she had used reasonable care. AFIC also argued there had been no problems with the restroom door before Encalade’s accident. Encalade herself testified that she had not had issues with the door before this accident.
Multiple witnesses were asked for their statements as it pertained to the restroom door in the building. A witness who worked in the building stated she used the restroom almost every day and had never experienced problems with the restroom door. Similarly, the property manager testified there were no complaints regarding the door, and the only work on the restroom was on its interior. Another witness, the owner of A.H.G. Solution, LLC, stated she had used the door on many occasions without issue and did not know of any complaints.
As a response, Encalade did not dispute that there were no records of an inspection of the door, but still contended that AFIC failed to exercise reasonable care in discovering the defective door-closing mechanism. As part of the response, Encalade submitted an expert report. The expert explained that the door closing mechanism should have been inspected at least annually for everyday wear and tear; therefore, the defendants failed to exercise reasonable care. Another Enclade expert also concluded that the swing speed of the door was not in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act Standards for Accessible Design.
The trial court held a hearing on the summary judgment motion and determined that the owner must have had actual or constructive notice of the alleged defect. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of AFIC because they found that AFIC did not have notice of the defect, there were no previous issues before Encalade’s accident, and the prior witness testimonies brought by the Enacalde were speculative.
The appellate courts reviewed the summary judgment de novo, meaning that a court will decide on the issues without reference to any legal conclusion made by the previous court. While the trial court’s reasons for granting summary judgment can be informative, it is not a determining factor in the appellate court’s conclusion of the issues.
The appellate court noted that under La. C.C. art. 2317.1, a negligence liability standard is applied to cases that involve defective things. Accordingly, the Appellate court ruled that because AFIC had no notice of the issue with the lady’s restroom door until after Encalade’s accident, AFIC did not have constructive knowledge of the defective door. Therefore no liability existed. Similarly, the appellate court agreed with the trial courts holding that the expert testimony only demonstrated speculation and conjecture, thus merely asserting a theory of causation, which is insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment.
AFIC did not have constructive knowledge of the alleged defective condition of the door. Enclade’s expert testimony relied on speculation alone, and she lacked evidence to support some elements of negligence, according to La. C.C. art. 2317.1. For these reasons and more, Enclade’s lawsuit ended at the appeals court. This case teaches that constructive notice is critical in Louisiana trip and fall lawsuits.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer Brianna Saroli
Other Berniard Law Firm Articles on Summary Judgment and Trip and Fall Lawsuits: Who is Liable for a Slip and Fall Accident in Louisiana, the Landlord or Tenant?