Articles Posted in Slip-and-Fall Accidents

When someone is injured in a Virginia slip-and-fall accident and files a personal injury case seeking compensation for their injuries, the case will be heard by either a judge or a jury. Even if the case is heard by a jury, the judge will have an important role throughout the process by making determinations of which evidence will be presented to the jury, which substantive rules apply, and how the jury is instructed upon deliberation.

CobblestonesIn Virginia personal injury cases that are heard by a judge, the judge will have the final say in the ultimate determination of liability. In some cases, a different judge may make certain pre-trial evidentiary rulings in order to not unduly sway the mind of the judge hearing the case. Once a judge makes a determination as to liability, that decision will be final; however, the losing party may have several appealable issues that can be brought to the attention of a higher court. A recent slip-and-fall case illustrates a defendant’s unsuccessful attempt at reversing a judge-issued verdict.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff tripped on a defect in the sidewalk when exiting the defendant hospital. As a result of her fall, she broke her toe and sustained a serious back injury. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the hospital, arguing that the hospital was negligent in failing to properly maintain the sidewalk. As a part of her claim, the plaintiff had to establish that her injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of allowing the defect in the sidewalk to remain. Additionally, she had to establish that the defect in the sidewalk was the actual cause of her injuries.

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While all landowners and business owners have a duty to ensure that their property is safe for those whom they invite onto their land, there are limitations to this duty. One of the most common limitations that courts impose on a landowner’s duty to keep his premises safe involves dangerous conditions that are readily apparent to guests.

Wet FloorThe rationale behind this limitation is that an injured party should not be permitted to seek compensation for their injuries if they were aware of the dangerous condition that ultimately caused their injuries. A recent case illustrates how a state appellate court was asked to apply this limitation on a landlord’s duty, but it declined to do so.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a college student. On a clear and sunny day, she was dropped off at school by her father. She entered the building where her first class was and attended class. During her first class, the weather outside changed, and it began to rain. However, the plaintiff was not aware of the change in the weather because the classroom where she was did not have any windows.

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Earlier this week, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by the parents of a young boy who was injured while playing baseball in a park owned and operated by the defendant city. Ultimately, the court determined that although the plaintiff presented evidence on appeal that the defendant city knew of the alleged hazard prior to their son’s injury, it could not be considered on appeal because the evidence was not presented at trial.

Baseball DiamondThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was participating in a baseball game in a park that was maintained by the defendant city. As the plaintiff was sliding into home base, his right foot and shin slid under the edge of the plate, which had been lifted due to repeated use. As the boy tried to stand, he broke his leg in two places.

A few months after the accident, the boy’s parents filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city, alleging that it had failed to safely maintain the field. In response, the city claimed that it was immune from the lawsuit due to the state’s recreational use statute. The plaintiff’s attorney issued a general objection to the application of the recreational use statute, but failed to provide a specific basis for the objection.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a premises liability case that required the court to determine if a school could be held liable in a case in which a student slipped and fell on a patch of ice that formed after the school applied snow-melt in the immediate area. Ultimately, the court concluded that while the school’s actions did alter the natural state of the snow on its property, there was no evidence suggesting that the school’s actions increased the risk of an accident. Thus, the case against the school was dismissed.

Icy Weather

A Student Playing on an Ice Patch Slips and Falls

A student at the defendant middle school was playing on a patch of ice with some friends when he fell, chipping a tooth and fracturing his nose. The boy’s parents filed a premises liability lawsuit against the school, arguing that the school should be held liable for his injuries because it negligently allowed the ice patch to form.

The school moved for summary judgment, explaining that the snow or ice is cleared by school employees each morning. Evidence also showed that school employees applied snow-melt to the parking lot in order to get the snow and ice in the parking lot to melt. The school argued that it should not be held liable for the natural accumulation of snow or ice on the property.

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Property owners across the State of Virginia owe a duty to those whom they invite onto their land. The extent of that duty depends on the relationship between the parties. However, as a general rule, if someone is invited onto the property of another party and slips and falls due to a hazardous condition, they may have a case for damages against the property owner.

Wet Floor SignOne common requirement for all premises liability lawsuits is that the injured party must be able to establish that the landowner’s negligence was the cause of their injuries. This is called the causation element. A recent case illustrates how a plaintiff’s inability to prove causation can be fatal to a premises liability lawsuit.

A Slip-and-Fall Accident Inside a Fast-Food Restaurant

The plaintiff in the case was a woman who was attempting to visit a fast-food restaurant. Like many businesses, the restaurant’s entrance consisted of two sets of double doors, with a small foyer between them. The plaintiff entered the first set of doors without a problem, but as she tried to open the second set of doors, she was unable to do so. She jiggled the door with no luck. She then started to shake the door, trying to open it, and the next thing she knew, she was on the floor. After she fell, she noticed that the ground around her was damp due to the rain outside.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that reversed a lower court’s determination that the plaintiff was not entitled to punitive damages as a matter of law. The court concluded that, given the facts presented in the plaintiff’s claim, a jury – rather than the judge – should determine whether punitive damages are appropriate.

BathroomPunitive Damages Generally

Unlike other types of damages that are designed to return the plaintiff to the position in which they were before being involved in an accident, punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant’s undesirable behavior. Additionally, punitive damages are used by courts to deter other would-be defendants from engaging in the type of conduct that may give rise to this type of award.

A Shower Door Explodes, Injuring a Guest

In the recent case mentioned above, the plaintiff was a woman who was a guest at the defendant hotel. During her stay, the plaintiff was exiting the shower when the shower door “exploded,” causing the broken glass from the door to severely cut her body.

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Thousands of personal injury cases are filed each year across the State of Virginia. While many of these cases have merit, the reality is that some do not. To help deal with this reality, and to alleviate the burden on the court system, courts have enacted a strict set of procedures to help ensure that only meritorious cases make it in front of a jury. Perhaps the most common of these procedures is a motion for summary judgment.

Wet StairsIn Virginia, summary judgment is a way for one party to obtain judgment in their favor very early in the process. Essentially, if summary judgment is appropriate, the judge will enter judgment in favor of that party, and the case is over without the need to submit the case to a jury and engage in additional fact-finding. However, summary judgment is only proper when there “is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

The burden rests with the moving party, meaning the party that is asking the court for judgment in its favor. This party must establish that – taking the evidence on its face and without assessing credibility – they are entitled to judgment in their favor. If conflicting evidence exists, or a credibility determination must be made between competing sources, summary judgment is not appropriate. A recent case illustrates each party’s burdens in a summary judgment motion filed by the defense in a personal injury case.

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Whenever someone is injured on another party’s property, the property owner may be legally liable for the injuries suffered by the injured party under the theory of premises liability. Premises liability cases are based on the legal theory that landowners owe a duty of care to keep those whom they invite onto their land safe. The level of duty owed to the guest depends on the relationship between the landowner and the guest.

Hotel BathroomIn Virginia, plaintiffs must prove that the defendant property owner owed a duty of care to the injured party that was violated by some action or inaction. Most often, these cases are brought after a property owner fails to take some kind of action to remedy a hazard on their property. For example, an unshoveled walkway or puddle of water can very easily result in a guest slipping and falling.

Virginia premises liability plaintiffs must also prove that the property owner was negligent in their failure to remedy the hazard. This often entails showing that the property owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition. If a plaintiff cannot prove that the landowner had the requisite level of knowledge, it is unlikely that their claim will be successful.

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The United States was founded on certain principles that have remained with the country through the state and federal constitutions, common law decisions, and legislatively enacted statutes. One of these principles is the idea that a government entity should not be held liable for any injuries caused as a function of the government carrying out its governmental business. This is called government immunity.

CobblestonesHowever, to say that a government is immune from all lawsuits that may arise while carrying out government business would grossly overstate the principle. In fact, governments can – and often are – held liable for their negligent and reckless actions, as long as there is evidence to overcome the immunity. Generally speaking, a negligent act will not rise to the level of culpability necessary to overcome immunity. Instead, there must be some “willful” or “wanton” conduct. While an intentional action certainly would satisfy this requirement, it is not required. Courts are willing to infer this level of culpability if a plaintiff can show, for example, that a government entity knew about a dangerous defect but failed to do anything about it. This is exactly what happened in a recent case involving a woman who tripped and fell on an uneven sidewalk.

Bernardoni v. City of Saginaw:  The Facts

In this case, a woman tripped and fell on two uneven slabs of concrete that made up the sidewalk. She filed a lawsuit against the City of Saginaw, claiming that it should be held liable for her injuries because the city was negligent in failing to repair the sidewalk. In a pre-trial deposition, she claimed that she did not know how long the sidewalk had been in that condition, but she believed it to have been like that for at least 30 days. In addition to her testimony, she provided photographs taken 30 days after her fall, showing the uneven surface.

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The Supreme Court of Iowa recently released a decision to vacate a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff in a premises liability case filed by a woman who fell on a patch of ice on the defendant’s property. The appellate court found that the district court improperly instructed the jury and ordered a new trial on the plaintiff’s claim. Although the plaintiff will not receive the damages she was awarded at the first trial, she may still receive compensation for her loss based on the recent appellate ruling.

Wet Floor SignThe Plaintiff Slips on an Ice Patch and is Injured in Front of a Hotel

The plaintiff in the case of Alcala v. Marriott International was a woman who was traveling on business and staying at a hotel that was operated by the defendant. On the morning of January 21, 2010, she slipped and fell while exiting the hotel en route to her client’s office, breaking her ankle. The plaintiff later filed a premises liability case against the defendants, presenting several theories of liability that could require judgment in her favor. After a trial in which evidence was presented concerning the weather conditions on the day of the accident, the defendant’s training of their employees, and private and non-mandatory industry standards for slip resistance and snow and ice removal, the jury returned a verdict holding the defendant 98% responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

The Defendant Appeals the Verdict, Alleging Improper Jury Instructions Were Given

After the verdict was reached, the defendant appealed for a new trial, arguing that the jury was given improper instructions that made the verdict legally inappropriate. Specifically, the defendant argued that the jury should not have been permitted to base their verdict upon the theory that the defendant had negligently trained their employees, since the plaintiff submitted no evidence to demonstrate what type of training would meet the standard of care. Furthermore, the defendant argued that the jury was improperly instructed as to the applicability of private industry safety standards regarding slip resistant materials.

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