Articles Posted in Slip and Fall Accidents

Last month, a California appellate court issued an interesting opinion in a premises liability case that was brought against a city after a baby was struck by a golf ball while riding in a stroller on a nearby walking path. The court was tasked with determining whether the city was entitled to trail immunity, based on the fact that the injury occurred while the plaintiff was on a public walkway. Ultimately, the court determined that the city was not entitled to immunity because the hazard that caused the accident was not physically a part of the government-owned trail, nor was it sufficiently related to the trail.

Golf CourseGovernment Immunity

As a general rule, government entities cannot be named as defendants in personal injury lawsuits without the government entity’s consent. However, statutes passed by state legislatures across the country carve out large exceptions to this general rule. One of the biggest exceptions is when a dangerous condition of government-owned land causes an injury. However, under a related statute, when the injury occurs on an unpaved road that is used for recreational purposes, the government is entitled to immunity. In Maryland and Washington, D.C., this principle is known as recreational use immunity, and it may confer immunity on any landowner who opens his or her land to the public at no cost.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a young child who was struck by a golf ball as his mother was walking him along a government-owned path that abutted a golf course. A few years before, after someone was struck by an errant golf ball, the golf course installed a concrete wall separating the golf course from the path. There was also a chain-link fence atop the concrete fence.

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Earlier this month, a Florida appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that was brought by a woman who slipped and fell while crossing the defendant’s property to get back to her home after returning from a dinner cruise. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff was an “uninvited licensee,” and the defendant landowner did not breach any duty it owed her.

Rocky PathThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and a friend planned on taking a dinner cruise. The cruise embarked not far from where the plaintiff lived. On the way to the cruise, the plaintiff and her friend walked on public roads to get to the dock. However, on the way back, the two decided to take a shortcut through a shopping complex parking lot, across a grassy area, and then down a stone-paved path.

As the plaintiff was walking across the stone-paved path near some storm pumps, she stepped on a cracked paving stone and rolled her ankle. She then fell to the ground, resulting in further injuries. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the owners of the shopping complex.

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Last month, an appellate court in Alabama issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a man who allegedly slipped and fell while approaching the counter at a fast food restaurant. The court reversed a lower court’s decision that had dismissed the plaintiff’s case, based on the fact that the hazardous condition on which the plaintiff slipped was open and obvious.

Banana PeelThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a customer at the defendant fast food restaurant. As the plaintiff entered the restaurant, he first went to the restroom to wash his hands. As he was exiting the restroom, he claims that he slipped and fell on an “oily” substance that was on the floor. After his fall, he got in line to order food. However, when he reached the front of the line, he was reportedly “delusional” and left without ordering. He later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the restaurant.

The restaurant asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit based on two grounds. First, the restaurant claimed that the plaintiff was not truthful. The restaurant presented videos showing a man who appeared to be the plaintiff slipping near the cash register but not falling. When confronted with this video, the plaintiff explained that the slip on the video was not the instance in which he fell but was another instance in which he just slipped.

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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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The Washington, D.C. judicial system is designed to handle all of the disputes arising in the District and, at times, can get fairly backed up. In particular, cases that end up going to trial take up a lot of a court’s resources. For this reason, courts implement certain rules to ensure that only meritorious cases end up going to trial. The most common method by which cases get weeded out prior to trial is through summary judgment.

GravelSummary judgment is a phase of the trial process in which a judge is asked by one party to enter judgment in favor of that party before the case gets presented to a jury. In Washington, D.C., in order for a judge to properly grant a party’s motion for summary judgement, the judge must determine that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

Importantly, all reasonable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-moving party. This means that if a defendant moves for summary judgment, all matters of witness credibility and other potential unresolved inferences must be made in favor of the plaintiff. In other words, if the judge assumes everything the plaintiff claims is true, and the plaintiff is still not entitled to judgment, summary judgment in favor of the defendant should be granted. A recent premises liability case illustrates how summary judgment may be used by a defendant to get a case dismissed at an early stage.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Kentucky issued a written opinion in a premises liability case involving a man who slipped and fell while trying to get into the shower at the defendant hotel. In the case, Goodwin v. Al J. Schneider, the court held that the lower court erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s claim for his own failure to take reasonable precautions in entering the shower. Specifically, the state’s high court held that the lower courts mistakenly determined that the defendant did not have a duty to protect Goodwin.

BathroomThe Facts of the Case

Goodwin and his wife were staying at the defendant hotel for a conference. On the second day of his stay, Goodwin fell while he was entering the shower. Evidence presented at trial showed that the bathroom did have a hand rail to assist guests in entering the shower, but it did not have a bath mat. However, other rooms in the hotel had both a bath mat and a hand rail. Goodwin filed a premises liability lawsuit against the hotel, seeking compensation for the injuries he sustained in the fall. He claimed that the hotel should have provided additional protection and that the hotel’s failure to do so was negligent.

The trial court hearing the case granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgement, stating that the hotel did not have a duty to provide bath mats in all rooms and that the hotel is not “an insurer of a guest’s safety.” The court reasoned that a wet shower is an “open and obvious” hazard, and the defendant did not have a duty to remedy the hazard. The court of appeals affirmed.

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Premises liability lawsuits, more commonly known as slip-and-fall cases, are based on the legal theory of negligence. Essentially, these claims rely on the the duty that a landowner or occupier owes to those people who are invited onto its land. Historically, there have been three classes of “guests”:  invitees, licensees, and trespassers.

Snowy RoadInvitees are owed the highest duty from landowners. Most commonly, invitees are customers of a business. Licensees are the next-most protected group, and they consist of social guests. Finally, trespassers are owed the most minimal duty, and generally this only requires that a landowner not employ traps or other devices to intentionally harm the trespasser.

Theories of Recovery Available to Premises Liability Plaintiffs

When someone is injured on the land of another, they may file a lawsuit against the landowner. The duty owed to the plaintiff will depend on their classification above. Once the plaintiff’s status is determined, the court will then determine if the defendant violated that duty of care. This can result in one or more of several available claims. A recent premises liability case arising out of a slip-and-fall accident outside a hotel illustrates several potential theories of liability.

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Earlier this month, the state supreme court in Wisconsin issued an opinion holding that a hot air balloon operator was not entitled to immunity under the state’s recreational use statute. In the case, Roberts v. T.H.E. Insurance Co., the court determined that a hot air balloon operator is neither an owner nor an occupier of the land on which it operates, and it is therefore not entitled to immunity.

hot-air-balloon-4761_960_720The Facts of the Case

Ms. Roberts was at a charity event hosted at a local gun club when she was injured while waiting in line to take a tethered hot air balloon ride. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant hot air balloon operator was providing free rides to help support the charity event. People interested in taking a free ride would line up, and an employee of the hot air balloon company would hand out waivers of release for each person to sign. The wait to get up in a balloon was about 20-30 minutes.

As Ms. Roberts was waiting, a strong wind broke the balloon free of the tethers, and it came swinging into the line of those waiting to ride in the balloon. It struck Ms. Roberts, and she fell to the ground, sustaining injuries as a result. Afterwards, she filed a lawsuit against the defendant, the operator of the hot air balloon.

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Earlier this month, one state’s highest court issued an opinion interpreting the state’s recreational use statute, determining that a city employee named in his individual capacity is not entitled to governmental immunity as a “land owner” for the land he was in charge of maintaining. In the case, Johnson v. Gibson, the court determined that the plaintiff’s lawsuit should be permitted to move forward against the allegedly negligent employee and his supervisor.

city-87343_960_720The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured while jogging in a city-owned park when she stepped in a small hole that had been dug to repair a sprinkler. The hole was dug by one of the defendants named in the lawsuit, who was a city employee in charge of park maintenance. The lawsuit also named the employee’s supervisor.

At trial, the defendants asked the court to dismiss the case against them, based on the fact that they were entitled to government immunity as city employees. Generally speaking, governments and private land owners alike are immune from personal injury lawsuits that occur on their land, as long as the land is open for use to the public without a fee. However, in this case the court determined that the city employee was not a “land owner” who had opened his land up for use by the public.

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Earlier this month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case that may have wide-ranging implications for slip-and-fall plaintiffs injured on government land. In the case, Gibson v. United States of America, the court determined that the federal government’s normal sovereign immunity from tort lawsuits did not attach, and the case should proceed to trial.

trailer-in-nevada-desert-1541546Gibson v. United States: The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, Gibson, suffered a fractured leg while he was on federal government property inspecting Federal Emergency Medical Association (FEMA) trailers that were scheduled to be later sold at auction. The evidence presented indicated that the trailers were on a several hundred-acre, fenced-in lot containing hundreds of trailers.

On the day in question, the plaintiff was with a FEMA employee inspecting the trailers. Some of the trailers had pull-out steps to assist with entry and exit, while others did not. For those that did not have steps, the FEMA employee had her own step ladder she carried with her. She would set up the step ladder along the side of the trailer and would enter and exit that way.

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