Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case illustrating one of the difficulties that some Virginia slip-and-fall plaintiffs encounter when filing a case against a landowner. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s case should proceed to trial despite the fact that she did not offer any direct evidence that the city knew the hazard existed. Finding that the plaintiff’s photographs failed to sufficiently prove that a crack in the sidewalk was so old as to impute knowledge of its existence, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was taking a walk to get some exercise along a sidewalk that was maintained by the defendant city. At some point in her walk, the plaintiff tripped and fell on a slab of concrete, breaking her arm. The plaintiff called 911, and the plaintiff’s daughter transported her to the hospital. The next day, the plaintiff met with a police officer and reported her injuries.

Photographs of the sidewalk where the plaintiff fell showed two adjoining concrete slabs, one about 1.5 to 2 inches higher than the other. The plaintiff testified that, while she could not say for sure that she tripped on the raised portion of the concrete slab, she just “knew that her feet hit something.”

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case, illustrating a common difficulty many Virginia premises liability plaintiffs face when attempting to establish a defendant’s liability. The case presented the court with the task of determining whether the plaintiff’s awareness of the slick patch of ice that caused her to slip and fall was fatal to her claim against the defendant shop owner. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence was undisputed that the plaintiff was aware of the hazard and that she was not forced to leave out the same door she entered. Thus, the court held that the plaintiff’s case was properly dismissed.

Leaking SpigotThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was visiting the defendant’s store on an errand for her employer. As the plaintiff approached the front door to the store, she noticed that a water spigot had been left on and that water was spilling onto the pavement and freezing. The plaintiff negotiated the ice without issue and, believing that the ice was a hazard to other customers, let an employee know as soon as she entered the store.

The employee informed the plaintiff that she could leave out a set of rolling doors on the side of the building. The employee gave the plaintiff directions, but instructed the plaintiff not to tell anyone he told her to exit through the door, otherwise he could get fired. The plaintiff found the rolling doors, but they were locked.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case presenting an interesting issue that frequently comes up in Virginia premises liability cases. Specifically, the case considered whether the presence of a young child’s parents can act to mitigate any duty that was owed to the child by the defendant landowner. Ultimately, the court concluded that it can, and it dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit against the defendant.

Cup of JoeThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case was a young child who was seriously injured while visiting the defendant coffee shop. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the young child was accompanied by his parents. After the family ordered their food and drinks, they went upstairs to use the restroom before leaving. On the way out, the parents heard one of their two young sons screaming.

As it turns out, a metal pole that was used to create the line leading up to the cash register had fallen on the young boy’s hand. The boy was taken to the hospital, but doctors were unable to save the boy’s finger, which had to be amputated.

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As a general rule, landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they allow onto their property. The extent of any duty owed is dependent on several factors, including the purpose of the visit as well as the relationship between the parties. Perhaps the most common example of a Virginia premises liability lawsuit is when a customer is injured while shopping at a business.

StadiumA recent case illustrates a different type of premises liability lawsuit. In this case, a young girl was seriously injured after she fell nearly 30 feet after slipping between the bleachers at a youth football game. The girl’s parents filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city, which operated the stadium, claiming that the city was negligent in the construction of the bleachers and also for failing to warn visitors of the dangers that were present.

The city claimed that it could not be held liable under the state’s recreational use statute. Specifically, the statute prevented anyone from holding a landowner liable if their injury occurred while engaging in recreational activity. In order for the statute to apply, the landowner cannot charge a fee for the use of their land. However, in this case, the city charged the plaintiffs $2 admission into the game, but did not charge their daughter any admission fee because she was under six years old at the time.

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Virginia personal injury plaintiffs have to be careful in following the procedural rules in any case. In a recent Virginia Supreme Court decision, after a jury found in the plaintiffs’ favor, the Court determined the plaintiffs had amended their pleadings too late and sent their case back for a new trial in their carbon monoxide poisoning case.

CO DetectorThe Facts of the Case

The carbon monoxide detector went off in an apartment rented by four tenants, and a maintenance worker came and replaced the batteries. The alarm sounded again, and the tenants called the gas company. An inspector came and measured the carbon monoxide (CO) levels in the apartment. He found the CO levels were hazardous, turned off the gas supply to the furnace, and “red tagged” the furnace as the suspected source of the leak.

The apartment’s property management company then sent a maintenance worker to the apartment, who stated that he had found a loose vent pipe in the attic, reattached it, and rechecked the CO level. He repaired the vent pipe by using zip screws, which was contrary to manufacturer specifications. A city code enforcement officer later came, who found the CO levels were within the acceptable range and removed the red tag, but he did not go into the attic or inspect the furnace or vents.

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When someone is injured due to the alleged negligence of another party, the injured party may be entitled to compensation for their injuries from the at-fault party through a Virginia personal injury case. All personal injury cases, however, must be filed within a certain amount of time. If a plaintiff files their case after the applicable statute of limitations has expired, the court will have no choice but to dismiss the case.

Old GarageOften, when a Virginia personal injury case is filed more than two years after the date of the injury, there is significant litigation over statutes of limitations. This is because the general statute of limitations for all Virginia personal injury cases is two years. Of course, in some cases, there are exceptions to the two-year rule, but these exceptions are rarely obvious and often must be determined by the courts.

A recent appellate court opinion illustrates the difficulties two plaintiffs encountered when they filed a personal injury lawsuit after the two-year statute of limitations.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court affirmed the dismissal of a plaintiff’s personal injury case because the court determined that the plaintiff was injured while she was acting as a firefighter. Applying the “firefighter’s rule,” which was codified in a state statute, the court explained that the defendants were immune from liability because the plaintiff’s injury resulted “from the condition of fire protection or firefighting equipment or facilities.”

FirefighterThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a firefighter who was called out to fight a wildfire that had gotten out of control. Since the wildfire was rapidly spreading, many firefighters were called out to assist. The temporary barracks that were set up for firefighters filled up, and the plaintiff sought approval to set up camp in the infield of a racetrack that was acting as the center of operations. The plaintiff’s supervisor granted her permission to set up camp in the infield.

On the first night, there were no problems. The plaintiff woke up and fought the fire all day before returning. On the second night, however, a truck that was delivering water ran over the plaintiff, resulting in serious injuries. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the truck and several other defendants.

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Earlier this month in Oklahoma, a $350,000 settlement was reached in favor of a woman who was seriously injured at a track-and-field meet held at a local school. According to a news source covering the case, the woman and her husband were attending the meet as spectators and were standing in a section that had been fenced off and specifically designated as a place for people to watch the event. However, during the meet, a student athlete threw a discus that traveled into the spectator area and struck the plaintiff.

Track and FieldThe object that struck the plaintiff was a standard 3.5-pound discus that was plastic with a metal core. As a result of the incident, the 83-year-old woman suffered serious injuries, including a traumatic brain injury.

The woman and her husband filed a premises liability lawsuit against the school district as well as the Nebraska State Activities Association, alleging that the organizations failed to keep spectators safe. Specifically, the plaintiff and her husband claimed that there was not a sufficient barrier between the athletes and the spectators, that the organizations failed to warn spectators about the dangers involved, and that there was no safe area to observe.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit brought by a man who was injured while he was helping a friend move a large piece of furniture. According to the facts as presented in the court’s opinion, the plaintiff slipped and fell down a spiral staircase after he placed his weight on a handrail. As the plaintiff placed his weight on the handrail, the railing snapped, causing the plaintiff to lose his balance and fall down through the center of the spiral staircase.

Spiral StaircaseThe plaintiff brought a premises liability lawsuit against his friend’s landlord, claiming that the landlord had failed to keep the railing – which was in a common area of the apartment building – in a reasonably safe condition.

The Evidence Presented at Trial

The plaintiff was the only witness to testify at trial. The plaintiff explained that he was trying to move a large piece of furniture down the stairs, but the landing was very small, so he had to position himself partially down the stairs. In doing so, it was necessary to place “just a little bit of pressure” on the rail.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case that arose from a bicycle accident that occurred on federally owned land. Ultimately, the case presented the court with the opportunity to determine whether the government was immune from liability under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which protects the discretionary acts of governments and government employees. Since the court determined that the alleged acts of negligence were discretionary, the court upheld the government’s sovereign immunity.

Forest TrailThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding her mountain bike in the De Soto National Forest. She did not look at the bulletin board at the trail head, which had a warning that the Couch Loop Trail was closed. The plaintiff and her friend continued down the Couch Loop Trail, eventually taking an alternate route off the main trail. This alternate route led the bikers to an area with various ramps, or “jumps.” The ramps were not built by the U.S. Forest Service, and the Forest Service claimed to have no knowledge of their existence.

The plaintiff rode over one of the ramps and fell, resulting in a serious injury. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that the government was negligent in maintaining the land and also negligent in failing to warn her about the dangerous conditions. The plaintiff claimed that government immunity did not apply in this instance, since the acts of the rangers were ministerial. A ministerial act is one that does not involve the exercise of discretion.

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