Articles Posted in Premises Liability

After any Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, the injured party is entitled to pursue a claim for compensation against the party they believe to be responsible for their injuries. These Washington, D.C. premises liability claims must be brought within the timeframe set forth in D.C. Code § 12-301(8), which is three years from the date of the injury. If an accident victim fails to file their complaint on time, the court will dismiss the claim without reviewing it on the merits. This almost always results in the victim being completely prevented from recovering compensation for their injuries.

Old GarageWhile it may seem simple to determine what the applicable statute of limitations is, that is not always the case. In some situations, a plaintiff believes that their claims are subject to a longer statute of limitations, only to find out that a shorter time period applies. This was the case in a recent Georgia appellate court opinion.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a young boy who was injured while the family was living in a rental property owned by the defendant. One day, the plaintiffs’ son leaned up against a brick wall and the wall collapsed, resulting in the boy sustaining serious injuries. He was hospitalized as a result and incurred significant medical expenses.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who fell through the wooden stairs leading up to the home in which she lived with the defendant. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the doctrine of “res ipsa loquitur” as it applies to slip-and-fall cases when there is little to no evidence that the defendant knew that the dangerous condition causing the plaintiff’s fall existed. Ultimately, the court concluded that, without more, res ipsa loquitur does not apply.

Wooden StairsThe Ancient Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur

The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is an old common-law doctrine that, in Latin, translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” Courts have allowed plaintiffs to apply the doctrine when there was an accident that would not likely have occurred unless the defendant was negligent. In order for the doctrine to apply, several elements must be met:

  • The injury must be the type that would not normally occur without a negligent act;
  • The injury was caused by something that was in the exclusive control of the defendant; and
  • The plaintiff took no part in causing the accident.

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Earlier this month, a settlement was reached between a woman who was seriously injured while attending a track-and-field meet and the school where the injury occurred. According to a national news source covering the case, the accident occurred back in 2014 at a track meet for a local high school.

Discus in HandEvidently, the 85-year-old plaintiff was struck by a discus that had been thrown by a student athlete while she was standing in an area that was designated for spectators. The woman and her husband filed a personal injury lawsuit against the school under a premises liability theory. The couple alleged that the area designated for spectators was negligently placed in a dangerous location. Specifically, the couple claimed that since the spectator area was too close to where the student athletes were competing, spectators were at an unreasonable risk of being injured.

After the incident, the school decided to push back the spectator area and install signage, warning spectators about the potential dangers. Ultimately, the plaintiff was offered $350,000 for her injuries by the school, and she accepted.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit brought by a man who fell down a spiral staircase as he was helping a friend move furniture out of the apartment that his friend rented from the defendant landlord. The court ultimately affirmed the trial judge’s ruling to overturn the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff because insufficient evidence was presented to hold the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Spiral StaircaseThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was helping his friend, who rented an apartment from the defendant, move some furniture. The only way to the apartment was up a spiral staircase. There was a small landing outside the apartment door, where residents would be able to stand as they unlocked the door.

As the plaintiff and his friend attempted to move a large piece of furniture out of the apartment, they first placed it on the landing. The plaintiff then repositioned himself a few steps below the landing, and he leaned against the handrail to keep his balance. As he leaned on the hand rail, he heard a crack, and the rail gave way. The plaintiff fell over the railing and through the center of the spiral staircase. The plaintiff then filed a premises liability lawsuit against the landlord, alleging that the landlord failed to keep the common areas of the apartment complex in a reasonably safe condition.

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Earlier this month, a Georgia appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit brought by several tenants and their guests against the landlord that owned the home where the injuries occurred. Ultimately, the court determined that although the injuries occurred on the landlord’s property, the plaintiffs failed to meet the heightened burden required to establish liability against an out-of-possession landlord.

Back PorchThe Facts of the Case

The landlord purchased the home back in 1987. Shortly after the purchase, the landlord hired an independent contractor to replace the rear deck. The home was rented without incident until 2010.

Around the time when the plaintiffs moved into the home, the landlord went to the property to replace a few of the boards on the rear deck. Evidently, some of the boards were stained, and others had been charred by previous tenants. The landlord conducted a visual check of the deck and testified that everything seemed fine.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in which the court had to apply the recreational use statute to determine whether the defendant city could be held liable for injuries occurring at a recreational baseball game. Ultimately, the court held that the city was entitled to immunity and that the plaintiff’s argument that the city had prior notice of the field’s dangerous condition was not able to be considered on appeal because it was not argued below.

Old BaseballThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in the case were the parents of a boy who was playing a recreational game of baseball in a park owned and operated by the defendant city. During the game, the plaintiffs’ son slid into home plate, and his ankle and lower leg got lodged under the plate. When their son tried to stand up after the slide, he broke his leg in two places.

The plaintiffs filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city, arguing that it was negligent in maintaining the baseball diamond. In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the city argued that it was entitled to immunity from the lawsuit under the recreational use statute.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who fell while on the defendant’s property. Because the plaintiff failed to disclose the names of her expert witnesses, the court held that the experts’ testimony was properly excluded and summary judgment appropriately granted.

StaircaseThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff slipped and fell on a set of stairs at the defendant’s property. The details of the plaintiff’s fall were not at issue in the court’s opinion. However, in response to the plaintiff’s allegations, the defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s case was insufficient as a matter of law.

After the defendant moved for summary judgment, the plaintiff presented two experts who planned to testify about the condition of the stairs as well as industry safety standards. The defendant objected to the two experts’ testimony because the plaintiff had failed to disclose them at an earlier time. Under state law, either party can demand that all parties involved in a lawsuit release the names of all potential expert witnesses. The defendant had done this earlier in the proceeding, and the plaintiff did not release any expert names. Normally, this issue arises in the context of trial, but here it was at the summary judgment stage.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in Wyoming issued a written opinion applying the “natural accumulation” rule to affirm the dismissal of a plaintiff’s slip-and-fall lawsuit against a middle school. In essence, the rule prevents a landowner from being held liable for injuries occurring from the natural accumulation of snow or ice on their property. The court’s most recent opinion explained that the application of salt or snow-melt, while it alters the original condition of the snow, does not aggravate it.

IceThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a middle-school student. After P.E. class, the plaintiff and some friends encountered a large patch of ice on school grounds. The students took turns running and sliding across the ice, seeing how far they could go and performing various “tricks” as they slid. On the plaintiff’s second turn, he slipped and fell to the ground, breaking a tooth and fracturing his nose.

The plaintiff, through his parents, filed a premises liability lawsuit against the school, arguing that it was negligent in allowing the accumulation of ice or failing to clear the ice. The trial court disagreed, determining that the school could not be held liable for the natural accumulation of ice. The plaintiff appealed.

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Under the legal theory of premises liability, business owners have a general duty to ensure that the area accessible to customers is kept free from unreasonably dangerous conditions. When a business owner fails to take the necessary precautions to either remedy or warn visitors of a known harm, the business owner may be held liable for any injuries caused as a result.

HandgunOne of the key issues in premises liability cases is whether the defendant landowner knew or should have known that the dangerous condition existed at the time of the plaintiff’s accident. If it is determined that the business owner was oblivious to the harm and that the lack of knowledge was reasonable under the circumstances, the plaintiff’s premises liability case will likely fail. A recent case involving a tragic shooting at an apartment complex illustrates how a defendant landowner’s lack of knowledge of the dangerous condition causing the plaintiff’s injury can be fatal to a plaintiff’s case.

Mitchell v. Ridgewood East Apartments:  The Facts

Mitchell was visiting his aunt over New Year’s Eve, who lived at the defendant apartment complex. After midnight, Mitchell’s aunt went to bed, but Mitchell remained in the common areas of the complex, talking to other residents and guests. At around 2:55 a.m., Mitchell’s aunt heard shots and ran outside to find that Mitchell had been shot in the head.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who had slipped and fallen on a property co-owned by two individuals and maintained by a condo association. In the case, Garant v. Winchester, the court ultimately dismissed the plaintiff’s amended petition naming the condo association in the lawsuit because it was filed after the applicable statute of limitations had expired.

CondosThe Facts of the Case

In August 2010, Mrs. Garant tripped and fell outside 18-20 Woodland Court in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Believing that her fall was precipitated by a dangerous condition on the property, Garant planned on filing a premises liability case against the two owners of the property. Garant was aware that the property was maintained by a condo association, and she set out to determine the specific association that was in charge of the maintenance at the location so that the association could also be named in the lawsuit.

Garant consulted with the insurance company that covered the property and was informed that the association in charge of maintaining the premises was named the Woodland Court Condo Association. Garant also hired a title examiner to search the Registry of Deeds for the name of the association. That search revealed that the name of the association was 18-20 Woodland Condo Association. Garant finally searched the Secretary of Commerce’s database for the name of the association and was unable to come up with a result matching her query.

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