In a prior post, we explored the elements that a plaintiff must prove in order to recover against the owner of a business due to an unsafe condition on the property. There, the plaintiff, Lisa Beckham, tripped and fell over some loose asphalt in an unpaved parking lot of a children’s play facility in West Monroe. The case hinged on the analysis of whether the asphalt posed an “unreasonable risk of harm” to the customers who visited the property. The Second Circuit determined that under the facts of the case, the question was best left to a jury and was not appropriate for summary judgment. In the recent case of Bias v. Scottsdale Insurance Co. the Third Circuit also examined the requirement for the plaintiff to prove that there was a defect in the property that presented an unreasonable risk of harm, but reached a different result. Ray Bias injured his knees when he fell in the parking lot of David & Lori’s Kitchen Restaurant in Mamou. Bias’s fall was caused by several pieces of loose pea gravel on the concrete surface just outside the restaurant’s takeout window. Bias didn’t notice the gravel as he approached the window because he was looking up at the menu board posted above the window. In a complaint for damages against the establishment, Bias alleged that the gravel presented an unreasonably dangerous condition for restaurant patrons. The restaurant and its insurer, Scottsdale Insurance Company, filed a motion for summary judgment. At the hearing, Bias presented no expert testimony or other evidence to support his assertion that the gravel was unreasonably dangerous. Accordingly, the trial court granted the defendants’ motion and dismissed Bias’s action. Bias appealed, citing as error that there existed issues of fact as to the danger posed by the gravel.
The Third Circuit declared that “[t]he record contains no evidence to support [Bias’s] opinion that the presence of ten to twenty pieces of pea-sized gravel on [the restaurant’s] cement pad created an unreasonably dangerous condition.” The court further noted that Bias admitted he was “not exercising ordinary care” when he walked into the cement area while looking up at the menu board. After reviewing the state’s position that Louisiana property owners are not “insurers of the safety of visitors,” but instead simply “owe a duty to keep their premises in a safe condition for use,” the court concluded that the trial court’s dismissing Bias’s complaint at summary judgment was appropriate. Bias “did not present any evidence to support his allegation … [and] it was incumbent on [him] to do so in order to survive summary judgment.”
By contrast, the defective condition in the Beckham case required a more fact-intensive analysis. The plaintiff put forward evidence that painted a vivid picture of the overflow parking lot where she fell: the lot was unpaved and consisted of dirt, grass, rock, gravel, and chunks of crushed asphalt. Also, there was no evidence that she was not exercising ordinary care when she fell. Accordingly, the court concluded that based on the facts of the case, the determination of the lot’s level of dangerousness should left to a jury.
For a plaintiff, the opposing outcomes of the Bias and Beckham cases demonstrate the importance of offering the court sufficient evidence upon which to evaluate the danger posed by a premises defect. If a court is satisfied that enough evidence exists to warrant an inquiry into whether the defect was unreasonable, the action will likely survive a motion for summary judgment by the defendant and go to a jury.
If you have been injured due to a dangerous condition on someone’s property, call the Berniard Law Firm today toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help.