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.