Articles Posted in Slip and Fall Accidents

Many Washington, D.C. residents try to get away from their hectic and busy lives by planning a relaxing cruise vacation. These ships can travel all around the world and are generally a great way to unwind. However, just as in real life, accidents can happen on vacation. Sometimes a tragic incident can ruin a cruise and leave a plaintiff seriously injured. When this happens, Washington D.C. residents should remember that they may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the cruise line to recover for the harm they suffered.

Take for example a recent federal case against Carnival cruise lines. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was on vacation with her family aboard a Carnival cruise ship. Tragically, while on one of the decks of the boat, her three-year-old daughter fell off the deck onto the deck below, suffering head injuries. Eyewitness accounts report that the toddler was climbing the railing, although reports vary as to whether the toddler fell over or fell through the railing. The plaintiff sued Carnival cruise line, alleging negligence in the creation and maintenance of the guardrail.

Generally, to be successful in a personal injury claim, the plaintiff must prove three things: (1) that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; (2) that the defendant breached that duty; (3) that the defendant’s breach caused the accident or injury; and (4) that the plaintiff suffered actual harm as a result. The court in this case was focused on the first requirement—establishing the duty of care—because the defendant had filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case, claiming that they did not have notice of the danger or hazard and thus had no duty to fix it.

Defendants work hard to try to avoid liability when they face a lawsuit. One way in which defendants in Washington, D.C. premises liability cases may try to avoid liability is by filing a motion for judgment as a matter of law, or a directed verdict. These types of motions are routinely filed, as they provide a potential basis for an appeal if the case is not decided in the defendant’s favor.

One recent case illustrates a set of facts under which an appeals court found a directed verdict was not proper. In that case, the plaintiff had sued his apartment complex, alleging two counts of negligence and negligent repair after he slipped in a bathtub at his apartment. Before the plaintiff moved into the apartment, the owner had the unit inspected by the owner’s maintenance team. A week after he moved in, the plaintiff’s wife sent the apartment complex a list of items that needed to be addressed, including a  bathtub that was draining slowly. A maintenance person came to address the bathtub issue, and noted afterward that it was working correctly. A month later, the plaintiff was taking a shower, and the water failed to drain properly, causing the water to rise over his feet. He slipped and fell, causing him to sustain a deep cut in his back that required hospitalization, stitches, and therapy. The plaintiff and his wife did not notice a problem with the bathtub drain between the service call and when the plaintiff slipped and fell.

The apartment complex filed a motion for a directed verdict, the trial court denied it, and a jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and attributed zero liability to him. The apartment complex appealed, arguing in part that the trial court should have directed a verdict in its favor. The appeals court disagreed. It found the issue of whether the apartment complex negligently repaired the bathtub drain, causing the bathtub to back up with water later, was an issue for the jury to decide. Taking the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the drain did clog again, and reasonable people could find that there was sufficient notice and negligent repair, and that the clogged drain caused him to injure himself.

Business owners generally have a duty to protect customers from known hazards under Washington, D.C. law. To prove a dangerous condition existed in a Washington, D.C. premises liability case, a plaintiff must show that the defendant either had actual notice or constructive notice of the hazardous condition. To prove constructive notice, a plaintiff has to show the condition existed for long enough that the defendant should have known of the condition and corrected it in the exercise of reasonable care. The duration of the hazard is an important factor, and the evidence in support of constructive notice often includes evidence of how long the hazard existed. Other evidence may include, for example, the frequency that a defendant inspects for hazards. However, whether notice is sufficient to amount to constructive notice depends on the facts of the particular case.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court considered whether a store may have had constructive notice of a puddle of water on the floor before the plaintiff slipped and fell in it. In that case, the plaintiff slipped and fell on the puddle of water at a supermarket. The plaintiff claimed that the plaintiff was negligent because of the existence of the dangerous condition. In the course of discovery in the case, the plaintiff’s sister was deposed, who was there when the plaintiff fell. In the sister’s deposition, the sister was asked only about where the water came from and whether the puddle appeared transparent. She stated that she did not know where the water came from and believed the water was clear.

After the defendant filed for summary judgment, the plaintiff submitted an affidavit from her sister. In the affidavit, the plaintiff’s sister stated that shortly after the plaintiff fell, she saw a pool of water on the ground near a cooler. She explained the puddle was elongated and appeared to have been stepped in by multiple people because there were track marks or footprints to and from the puddle. The store argued that the affidavit should have been stricken from the record, because the affidavit repudiated the sister’s deposition testimony.

In a Maryland slip and fall case, a plaintiff has the burden of proving several elements before they are entitled to recover for their injuries.  Maryland slip and fall victims must prove that a dangerous condition existed, that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous condition, and that the defendant had knowledge in enough time for the opportunity to remove the condition or to warn the plaintiff. This means that a plaintiff generally has the burden of proving what the defendant actually knew —  or what the defendant should have known, given the surrounding circumstances. Thus, the knowledge requirement can be broken down into actual knowledge and constructive knowledge.

If a plaintiff claims the defendant had constructive knowledge, they must show how long the dangerous condition was present before their fall. If a plaintiff fails to prove that the defendant created or knew of the dangerous condition, or that it existed long enough so that the defendant should have known about it, the defendant is entitled to summary judgment.

In a recent appellate opinion, the court dismissed a slip and fall case against a grocery store after a woman slipped and fell while shopping. The woman claimed that she fell on a liquid on the floor while she was at the store that appeared to be from a squished grape. The store argued that there was no evidence that the store had actual or constructive knowledge that there was any liquid on the floor. The woman claimed that there was a dispute over whether the liquid was on the floor long enough that the store should have been aware of the substance.

When someone slips and falls in Washington, D.C., they may believe that they are the only ones at fault for their accident and resulting injuries. They may be embarrassed to tell anyone, or to complain about a hazardous condition that caused them to fall. But Washington, D.C. law protects plaintiffs who fall under these circumstances by allowing them to file a civil negligence suit against a property owner if they are negligent or reckless in maintaining their property. This is true for landlords who own commercial apartment complexes or business owners maintaining a shop for the public. While not liable in every situation where someone is harmed on their property, these individuals have a duty to ensure that dangerous conditions are remedied or handled in such a way as to minimize the chance of injury.

Nevertheless, Washington, D.C. plaintiffs should be aware that not every injury on a property is the fault of the owners. There are many cases where a court may determine that the condition that caused the fall was “open and obvious,” such that the plaintiff should have reasonably seen it and avoided it. For example, a state supreme court recently held that a plaintiff was not entitled to relief when they tripped over a yellow speed bump in the defendant’s parking lot. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff admitted she saw numerous yellow lines on the parking lot and that, since she had been in that parking lot many times, she must have previously noticed the speed bumps. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the plaintiff had not provided evidence that there was a hazardous condition in the parking lot, a requirement for her claim to succeed. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that a speed bump is inherently dangerous and is only considered “open and obvious” if it is properly designed and maintained and it is marked with signs warning the public about its existence. According to the plaintiff, the speed bump was not properly designed because it was the same color as the lines marking individual parking spaces, and there were no warning signs. The court, however, disagreed, finding that the speed bump was open and obvious and the plaintiff could have reasonably been expected to be aware of its existence and avoid tripping over it. Ultimately, the court did not find any evidence suggesting that the bump constituted a dangerous condition under the meaning of the law, and the plaintiff’s suit was dismissed.

A state appellate court recently considered a case highlighting the importance of local contributory negligence laws in Washington, D.C. slip and fall cases. According to the court’s decision, the defendant, an auto car dealership, hired a cleaning company to clean the dealership. The plaintiff was an employee of the cleaning company and was covering for another employee janitor while cleaning the dealership one night. While cleaning, the plaintiff decided to take out the trash before scrubbing the floors of a certain area of the dealership. On his way to the dumpster, however, he slipped in a puddle of oil and transmission fluid that he had not seen previously.

As a result of his slip and fall accident, the plaintiff suffered a severe knee injury, and he eventually brought suit against the defendant dealership to seek monetary compensation. In his suit, he argued that the dealership was negligent by breaching their duty to maintain reasonably safe premises for him and that he suffered injuries as a result.

Under Washington, D.C. law in this situation, the defendant dealership might be able to argue that the plaintiff was partially at fault for his injuries, because he knew there was likely to be oil and transmission fluid on the floor and he thus should have been more careful. Employers do have a duty of care to provide reasonably safe working conditions for those who work for them, but employers faced with this type of liability may want to argue that the victim was contributorily negligent and thus partially responsible for the accident.

Washington, D.C. slip and fall lawsuits are based on the traditional theory of negligence and fault. Thus, when a pedestrian slips and falls due to an issue with a walking area or path, the property or landowner may be liable for the pedestrian’s injuries. Most frequently, slip and fall lawsuits stem from injuries that occur on slippery surfaces, uneven walkways, unsecured rugs, or liquid spills. However, Washington, D.C. slip and fall lawsuits may also arise from injuries sustained from short steps, inappropriate lighting, and unstable handrails. For some, the damages that result from these dangerous conditions may not be significant; however, others suffer severe injuries after premises liability accidents.

Under Washington, D.C. premises liability law, property owners or occupiers must take specific steps to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. The standard of care that a property owner owes their visitor depends on the type of person who is visiting the property. In business situations, visitors are often considered “invitees.” These are individuals who enter a property for the benefit of the property owner. Property owners must use reasonable and ordinary care to correct and warn their visitors of any dangerous conditions. Although, Washington, D.C. law requires property owners to provide safe environments for customers and passersby; the law also requires invitees to engage in safe behavior.

Washington, D.C. law allows defendants to use contributory negligence as a defense to the claims against them. Washington, D.C.  is one of only four states that follows the theory of pure contributory negligence. Pure contributory negligence bars plaintiffs from recovery if the courts find that they possessed any fault for the accident. This means that if the plaintiff were even 1% at fault, their claim would be barred entirely. There are ways to overcome a contributory negligence defense, but they require a thorough understanding of premises liability laws.

Earlier in June of this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a slip-and-fall case. Specifically, the court was asked to determine whether the plaintiff’s case should proceed against both the owner of the complex, as well as the property manager. The lower court dismissed the claim against the property manager, and the plaintiff appealed. The case is important for Maryland slip-and-fall accident victims because it illustrates how a plaintiff can potentially hold multiple parties liable for their injuries.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff slipped and fell as she was walking from her apartment to a kiosk to pick up her mail. At the time, the plaintiff had lived at the apartment complex for 11 months, and had always driven to get her mail. On her first trip on foot to the mail kiosk, she fell as she was descending a handicap access curb cutout.

As it turns out, the slope of the ramp was in violation of the American with Disabilities Act because it was too steep. And evidently, the owner of the complex learned about this when he hired an inspector to survey the property before he purchased it. After the owner purchased the complex, he enlisted the defendant property management company. The property management company was aware of the inspector’s report noting the ramp violation. However, the contract between the owner and the property management company provided that the property management company only had authority to conduct repairs.

In most Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, the jury makes the final decision as to whether the defendant is liable, and the judge aids the jury in making this determination by ruling on preliminary issues and then instructs the jury on the appropriate law. However, in some rare cases, a judge can grant a party’s motion for judgment as a matter of law after a jury has rendered a verdict, essentially reversing the jury’s decision.

When granted, these motions are almost always appealed. Thus, post-verdict motions for judgment as a matter of law are typically only allowed if the judge believes that the jury decided the case incorrectly. A recent federal appellate case illustrates the high bar a party must meet when seeking such a motion.

According to the court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the case, the plaintiff was a guest at a friend’s wedding, which was held at the defendant resort. As the night progressed, several of the guests decided they would jump into the resort’s pool, which was near the dance floor. As guests ran from the dance floor to the pool and back, the floor became wet.

When someone is injured in a Washington, D.C. accident, they are entitled to pursue a claim for compensation against the parties they believe to be responsible for their injuries. In many cases, the injured party will bring multiple claims against the at-fault party, each with a different legal standard. In a recent state appellate decision, the court wrestled with the question of whether the plaintiff’s claims were properly dismissed by the lower court.

In that case, the plaintiff was a truck driver who arrived at his destination to pick up a load of corn. The plaintiff was responsible for ensuring the quality of the corn, so he waited near the loading dock while an employee with the processing facility loaded the corn onto the plaintiff’s truck. At some point, the forklift driver struck the plaintiff, knocking the plaintiff off the loading dock, at which point he hit his head on the side of the truck. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries and was no longer able to work.

The plaintiff filed two distinct claims against the processing plant. First, under the theory of respondeat superior, the plaintiff claimed that the plant was liable for the negligent actions of the forklift driver. Second, the plaintiff argued that the plant was negligent under a premises liability theory, specifically, for failing to, “protect invitees from the hazard posed by its forklift drivers and failing to keep the premises safe for invitees.”

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