Articles Posted in Slip & Fall

Earlier this month, a Mississippi appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit that should act as a warning to all New Mexico personal injury victims. The case involved a slip-and-fall case filed against three defendants, two of which the plaintiff excused through a pre-trial settlement agreement. However, the issue for the court to resolve was whether the plaintiff also unknowingly excused the third defendant as well. Ultimately, the court found that the third defendant was excused through the lawfully executed agreement between the plaintiff and one of the other parties.

SidewalkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was walking on the sidewalk in front of an auto parts store when she tripped and fell after stepping in hole for a recessed utility box that was obscured due to fresh grass clippings that had covered the area. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the auto parts store, the city where the accident occurred, as well as the utility commission responsible for the placement and maintenance of the utility box.

During pre-trial negotiations, the plaintiff entered two separate settlement agreements with the auto parts store and the city. The agreement with the city contained a clause whereby the plaintiff agreed to discharge the case against the city and any “successors, agents, attorneys, insurers, subsidiaries, sister or parent companies, assigns, employees, representatives, stockholders, [etc.]”

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Connecticut issued a written opinion that will be of interest to victims of New Mexico slip-and-fall accidents because it illustrates the type of evidence necessary to establish liability in these types of cases. In this case, the plaintiff’s case was tried before a judge without a jury. After hearing the evidence on both sides, the judge entered a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor for approximately $108,000. The defendant appealed the lower court’s ruling to a higher court.

SidewalkThe Plaintiff Stubs Her Toe on a Hospital Sidewalk

The plaintiff was at the defendant hospital visiting a loved one when she stubbed her toe and fell while walking on the sidewalk immediately outside the hospital. In her deposition testimony, the plaintiff explained that she did not know what caused her to trip at the time, only that the front of her toe slammed into something on the ground and that she subsequently fell. As a result of her fall, the plaintiff sustained a broken toe and other injuries.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the defendant hospital, claiming that the hospital was negligent in maintaining the walkway. The plaintiff presented two reports from witnesses, explaining that there was a small but visible divot in the pavement in the immediate area where she fell.

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After a judge or jury enters a verdict in a New Mexico personal injury case, that verdict is final unless one of the parties files an appeal to a higher court. If an appeal is filed, the appellate court may only consider alleged legal errors. This means that an appellate court will not revisit factual findings of the judge or jury below, but it may consider issues related to the admission of evidence or other legal rulings made during the course of the trial.

Diving BoardAppellate courts will also only consider arguments that were made during the trial. For example, if a party fails to object to a ruling with which they disagree, that party will be prevented from raising the issue on appeal in most cases. In a recent case, the plaintiff’s premises liability claim was dismissed on appeal because the arguments he made on appeal were not raised below.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was an investor looking to purchase a rental home. He contacted the defendant real estate agent and arranged to see one of the agent’s listings. The agent met the plaintiff at the home and showed the plaintiff around. The home had a pool in the back yard that had been emptied prior to the property being put up for sale.

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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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