Articles Posted in Slip & Fall

New Mexico is a beautiful state with huge amounts of open land that can be used for recreational purposes, whether it be hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, or hunting. To encourage landowners, including local governments, to open up their land to the public, New Mexico lawmakers have passed a recreational-use statute that provides immunity from liability for some accidents that occur on a party’s land.

FireworksNot all landowners are immune from liability, however. After an accident occurs, the burden is on the landowner to prove that they are entitled to recreational-use immunity. In order to qualify, the landowner must establish that they did not receive any compensation from the person who was injured on their land. Even then, there are several exceptions that apply. A recent case illustrates how another state court handled a slip-and-fall plaintiff’s claim against a city for an injury that occurred in a public park.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff planned on watching the 4th of July firework display at a park that was owned and operated by the defendant city. The plaintiff arrived at the park in the morning, and upon exiting her car, she made her way past a set of vertical poles used to establish the bounds of the parking area. The plaintiff later explained that she didn’t pay much attention to the poles as she walked by them, and even if she had looked at them, they would not have caught her attention.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a personal injury case dealing with recreational use immunity as it applies to injuries occurring on government-owned land. Ultimately, the court determined that the defendant city was not entitled to immunity despite the fact that the plaintiff’s injuries occurred on government-owned land.

Golf SwingThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the mother of a child who was struck by an errant golf ball while in a stroller. At the time of the accident, the mother was walking her son along a path owned and maintained by the city. The path abutted a golf course. After the accident, the mother filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the golf course as well as the city. The plaintiff’s claim against the city was based on the fact that the city knew that the golf course presented a hazard to people using the path but failed to do anything to remedy that danger.

In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the city claimed that it was immune from liability based on the state’s trail immunity statute. Essentially, the trail immunity statute prevents a government entity from being held liable when a person is injured on a trail that was open to the public for general recreational purposes. In this case, the city argued that the walkway constituted a “trail” under the statute, and immunity should be granted.

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Last month, a state supreme court dismissed a summary judgment order granted by a lower court in a slip-and-fall case. The case stemmed from a 2013 accident in which a fast food patron was exiting the restaurant’s bathroom and fell, catching himself with his left hand. The patron immediately pushed himself up and was in a dazed and confused state. He later left the restaurant without ordering.

Fast FoodThe patron filed a lawsuit against the fast food restaurant, alleging that he sustained injuries due to their negligence in maintaining the premises. The defendant submitted video footage showing the patron slipping but not falling near the counter where customers order their food. The plaintiff explained that he did indeed slip near the counter, but he also fell just moments before that near the bathroom. After leaving the restaurant, the plaintiff began to experience severe pain. He returned to the restaurant and spoke to the manager, who he claimed acknowledged that she witnessed him fall.

The defendant countered by filing a motion for summary judgment. The restaurant argued that the video footage proved that the patron did not slip and fall in the restaurant. The restaurant claimed that, even if the patron did fall, the danger of a wet floor was open and obvious. The circuit court denied all of the motions brought by the patron and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

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In a recent case, a Georgia court of appeals determined a defendant should be able to reopen a default judgment that was entered on behalf of the plaintiff because the plaintiff named the wrong party. The court ultimately held that, due to the plaintiff’s failure to name and serve the proper party at the outset, it was reasonable that the defendant failed to answer the complaint.

GavelAccording to the court’s opinion, a man fell at a Mexican restaurant in Marietta and died a few days later. A few weeks after the man’s death, his attorney sent a letter to the restaurant; however, it was sent to the wrong address. The letter was still delivered to the restaurant, and someone signed for the letter, but no one responded to the letter.

The man’s wife then filed a claim against the restaurant, again listing the incorrect address on the complaint. The restaurant’s owner was served with a summons and complaint, which named the incorrect restaurant as a defendant. However, the restaurant’s owner, who did own the restaurant at which the man died, was not associated with the restaurant that had been named in the complaint. Accordingly, the restaurant owner’s attorney responded, explaining that he was not associated with the named restaurant. The attorney for the restaurant where the accident occurred did not respond, since that restaurant was not named as a defendant.

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Recently, the Court of Appeals of Georgia reversed a lower court’s decision that had granted summary judgment to a grocery store in a slip-and-fall case. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was shopping in the grocery store when she slipped in a puddle of liquid that was dripping from a package of meat. The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the grocery store, alleging that they failed to maintain the premises, and that failure resulted in her injury.

Wet FloorThe grocery store moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not have any actual knowledge of the hazardous condition. The store provided an inspection sheet that showed that the area was inspected about 40 minutes prior to the fall. Furthermore, the store provided the security tape, which showed the plaintiff walking around the area two times before falling. In its motion for summary judgment, the store argued that it appropriately inspected the area, and the plaintiff actually had better knowledge of the spill because she walked by it several times.

The trial court granted summary judgment in the grocery store’s favor. The plaintiff appealed and solely argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the defendant did not establish that it carried out a “reasonable” inspection on the day the fall occurred. The appellate court held that in order to overcome a summary judgment motion, a plaintiff must clearly show that the grocery store had constructive knowledge, which can be inferred from a lack of appropriate or reasonable inspection procedures. The court also explained that although there is no bright-line rule, grocery stores should have more frequent inspections. Ultimately, the court found that these sorts of cases turn on whether the store’s inspection procedure was reasonable, and this determination should be made by a jury. Thus, summary judgement was not appropriate.

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Earlier last month, one state’s supreme court issued a written opinion in a slip-and-fall case that required the court to determine whether the lower court properly applied the state’s recreational use statute. The case also presented the court with the opportunity to discuss one of the foundational rules of appellate procedure. Specifically, the court grounded its opinion in the rule stating that when a plaintiff’s evidence is presented for the first time on appeal, it cannot be considered because it was not presented at trial.

Home PlateThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the mother of a young boy who was injured while he was playing baseball in a park owned and operated by the defendant city. Evidently, the boy’s lower leg slid under home plate as he attempted to slide home. When he stood up after coming to a stop, he broke his leg in two places. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city, claiming that the bases were not properly maintained and were a danger to those using the baseball diamond.

In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the city argued that it was immune from liability under the recreational use statute. Specifically, the city claimed that it allowed all citizens to use the park for no cost, and under the statute, it could not be held liable. The plaintiff objected to the application of the statute but offered no basis for the objection. Ultimately, the trial court granted the city’s motion and dismissed the case, finding that the city was immune under the recreational use statute.

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Last month, the Supreme Court of the State of Wyoming issued a decision in a premises liability case stemming from a 2014 accident. According to the court’s opinion, a student and his friends left a middle school P.E. class and had to travel between buildings to get to their next class. The students noticed a patch of ice and began playing on it. The student bringing the lawsuit slid on the ice and fell, breaking a tooth, fracturing his nose, and lacerating his face.

Feet on the SnowAfter investigating the area, it became clear that the icy spot was not hidden, and it was not readily apparent that anyone had done anything to made the ice more slippery or dangerous. The school explained that it is their practice to remove snow and apply ice melt every day when ice or snow is present. Nothing indicated that they did not follow this practice on the day in question.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the school and found that there was no duty because the accumulation of the ice was obvious and natural. The student then appealed the lower court’s ruling, and the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s judgment. That court stated that the plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of negligence. It found that the student clearly knew that the area was dangerous. Furthermore, the court found that the school district did not violate the duty it owed to the student by applying an ice melting agent to the ice. The court explained that while the application of the ice melting agent may have changed the natural state of the ice, it was not proven that the school increased the likelihood of harm by applying the agent.

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All property owners, including businesses and governments, have a duty to make sure that their premises are kept reasonably safe. The level of duty that an individual, government, or business has to a person entering their land depends on the relationship between the parties. Generally speaking, there are three categories that a relationship can fall into:  trespasser, licensee, and invitee.

Operating RoomFor the most part, trespassers are those who are not invited onto the owner’s land, licensees are social guests, and anyone invited onto an owner’s property to conduct business is an invitee. A property owner owes an invitee the highest duty of care. In a recent case, a doctor recovered a significant damages award after sustaining a career-ending injury at the defendant hospital where he was performing a surgery.

A Doctor Slips and Falls in the Operating Room

The plaintiff in the case was a doctor who routinely performed surgeries at the defendant hospital. After surgery one day, the doctor went to sit down on a stool to complete some post-operation paperwork. However, as the doctor placed his weight on the stool, it slipped out from under him, causing him to fall to the ground.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued an opinion in a premises liability case in which the court tweaked previous case law because of the unjust result that would have occurred had the law been applied as previously interpreted. In the recent case, the court determined that the general rule that where a plaintiff in a premises liability case must prove that the defendant had superior knowledge of the hazard when the plaintiff is presented with an “untenable choice”,  a relaxed interpretation may be appropriate.

Gas StationThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a fuel delivery driver who would occasionally make deliveries to the defendant’s gas station. The defendant required all fuel delivery drivers to manually measure the level in the tanks prior to filling them, as well as after they had been filled. The plaintiff had told the defendant that the post-fill measurement was unnecessary because the tank had a computerized system that displayed the current level of fuel. The plaintiff also expressed concern that manually measuring the tank was dangerous, because it had to be done in the middle of the station’s parking lot and customers often came close to hitting him.

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Recently, the Supreme Court of the State of North Dakota released an opinion in a personal injury case against a city in charge of the maintenance of a park where the plaintiff fell while rollerblading. The case stemmed from an incident in which a young woman was injured while rollerblading over a soft patch of material used to repair a crack on a park pathway.

Cracked PavementThe city moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that it was not properly served. In turn, the plaintiffs then properly served the defendants. However, proper service was made just after three years from the date of the accident. The park district moved for summary judgment, claiming that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred due to the three-year statute of limitations for claims against a political subdivision. The lower court dismissed the case and agreed that the case was barred by the statute of limitations.

The plaintiffs appealed and argued that the claim did not accrue until a later date, when they were informed by an attorney that there was a reasonable negligence claim against the city. However, the appellate court determined that, despite the discovery rule, the statute of limitations begins to run from when the negligent act occurs. Unfortunately, since the city was improperly served, the case did not abide by the requirements of the statute of limitations. Thus, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

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