Plaintiff in Lawsuit Involving Injury at St. Francisville Resort Fails to Survive Summary Judgment

architecture-building-evening-home-462014-1024x519Vacations should be a time for relaxation and unwinding from the stresses of everyday life. No one who spends their hard-earned money renting a vacation condo expects to be injured during their stay. But how much responsibility does the owner of the condo have for maintaining the furniture in the unit?

Elizabeth Alvarado rented a condo at the Lodge at the Buffs, a resort in St. Francisville, Louisiana. Unfortunately, Alvarado was severely injured inside the condo when a stool she was sitting on collapsed underneath her. Alvarado filed a lawsuit against the Lodge and also Cole Properties, the owner of the condominium unit. Both the Lodge and Cole Properties denied any wrongdoing and filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss Alvardo’s lawsuit. 

According to Alavardo, the stool was missing screws, which caused it to collapse. In the rental agreement for the condo that Alvarado signed, it stated that Cole Properties was responsible for furnishing and maintaining a rental unit. However, it was up to Lodge to notify Cole Properties of any defects in a unit. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, reasoning that neither the Lodge nor Cole Properties knew of the stool’s defective condition. In the trial court’s view, it was unreasonable to expect the Lodge or Cole Properties employees to check and inspect every single piece of furniture in a rental unit. Unless there was a visibly obvious defect, the employees had no responsibility to make repairs. Alvarado appealed to Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal. 

In Louisiana, a trial court will grant summary judgment when there is no conflict between the parties about the facts of the case and the party that files the summary judgment has clear support from the law that it is in the right. La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3). The party that files the motion has the burden of showing the court that it is entitled to summary judgment. This party does not have to negate all of the elements of the opposing party’s claim. It simply must negate at least one essential element supporting the opposing party’s claim in order to succeed. La. C.C.P. art. 966(D)(1). Once the party negates an essential element, the opposing party must refute this negation. If the opposing party cannot, the trial court will grant the summary judgment request. In this case, Alvarado claimed that Lodge and Cole Properties violated Louisiana Civil Code article 2317.1 by not fixing the stool when it should have known, through the exercise of reasonable care,  that the stool was defective. 

The Appellate Court did not agree with Alvarado’s argument. In the Court’s view, the fact showed that there was nothing to indicate that the defendants should have checked the stool that Alvarado eventually sat on. The Court agreed with the trial court’s finding that a rental unit’s cleaning crew is not acting without reasonable care by not checking for missing screws on stools or chairs that had no visible defects. In fact, reasonable care does not mean looking for every single possible defect in a rental unit. Given the facts of the case, and the lack of a dispute over the facts, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Alvarado’s case is an instructive example of how trial courts will seek to avoid the costly process of trial by granting summary judgment in situations where facts are not in dispute and only a question of law remains at the center of a legal action. An experienced personal injury attorney can help to evaluate a potential case for the likelihood of success in litigation. 

Additional Sources:  ALVARADO v. LODGE AT THE BLUFFS, LLC 

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer:  Peter Lee

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