If you have ever watched a legal television show, you have seen the wide variety of evidence presented. Even if your lawsuit is not as high-stakes as the latest murder mystery show, it is still important to present sufficient evidence to satisfy your burden of proof and prevail on your claim. Otherwise, your case could get dismissed on a motion for summary judgment. The following lawsuit involving a slip in fall in a Louisiana convenience store discusses the concept of open and obvious risks.
Moore drove his car to a Murphy Oil gas station in Hammond, Louisiana. After he had purchased some items in the convenience store, he walked towards the door. While he reached for the door, he turned back and talked to the store manager. As he left the store, his foot contacted a pallet display stand with water bottles that were located right outside the door. He tripped and stumbled but did not fall. Moore reported this to the store manager. Afterward, he received treatment for his back pain. Murphy Oil paid for this treatment for about four months.
When Murphy Oil stopped paying for his treatment, Moore filed a lawsuit alleging that the display with water bottles was an unreasonably dangerous condition. The defendants, Murphy Oil and Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance, filed a motion for summary judgment. The court denied this motion, and the case went to trial. Before trial, Moore agreed that his damages were not over $50,000. At the trial, the court ruled in favor of Moore and awarded damages of $37,500. After they lost, Murphy Oil and Liberty Mutual appealed, arguing that the trial court incorrectly denied their summary judgment motion.
Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence shows no genuine issues of material fact. See La. C.C.P. art 966(B)(2). The appellate court reviews a trial court’s ruling on summary judgment de novo, meaning the appellate court reviews the evidence provided to the trial court and evaluates it with respect to the relevant substantive law. The relevant substance law was the Louisiana statute relevant to slip (or, here, a trip) and fall cases. This law requires store owners to exercise reasonable care. Such care includes keeping the store property safe from unreasonable risks and providing appropriate warnings about dangerous conditions it knows about. See La. R.S. 9:2800.6. If a plaintiff (here, Moore) cannot establish any of the required elements in that statute, then it is appropriate to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
Here, the defendants argued that the trial court should have granted them summary judgment because Moore could not prove that the pallet caused his accident or that the pallet was an unreasonable risk of harm. The appellate court explained that a court must decide whether the value and utility of a hazard such as a pallet outweighs the potential harm it could cause. One of the factors in this balancing test is whether the pallet created an unreasonable risk of harm.
Defendants claimed that Moore had failed to watch where he was going, so the display was not the cause of his fall. Defendants also pointed to pictures of the pallet to argue that the pallet was “open and obvious” and, therefore, not a risk of harm. In response, Moore argued that because the corner of the pallet was exposed near the exit and not entirely visible, it was a dangerous and obvious hazard.
The appellate court found that Moore had provided sufficient evidence to meet his burden of proof because he raised several questions about the existence and condition of the allegedly hazardous condition caused by the pallet. Therefore, the appellate court agreed with the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
Moore’s case shows the need to prove whether or not what you tripped on was “open and obvious.” If you are considering a lawsuit, a good lawyer can help you present sufficient evidence to help you meet your burden of proof.
Additional Sources: Moore v. Murphy Oil USA Inc., and Liberty Mutual Fire Ins. Co.
Written By Berniard Law Firm
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Summary Judgment in Trip-and-Fall Case: New Orleans Trip-and-Fall Case Highlights the Perils of Summary Judgment