Articles Posted in Slip-and-Fall Accidents

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing a doctrine of law that is rarely used in Virginia personal injury cases, but it is important nonetheless. The case involves the application of a doctrine called res ipsa loquitor, which can be used to permit a jury to make an inference that a defendant was negligent despite a lack of evidence showing the defendant acted negligently.

The Res Ipsa Loquitor Doctrine

The term res ipsa loquitor is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself,” and refers to a legal doctrine that may apply in cases where there is no direct proof that a defendant was negligent, but that the plaintiff’s injuries are such that they would not likely have resulted absent the defendant’s negligence.

The classic example of the res ipsa loquitor doctrine is the plaintiff who injured after a box falls on him while he is walking alongside a factory. In such a situation, the plaintiff would have no way of knowing where the box came from, who it belonged to, and why it fell. Thus, if the plaintiff filed a claim against the factory, he may be able to proceed under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor because boxes do not ordinarily fall from factory windows.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Virginia premises liability lawsuit discussing the extent of the duty that owners of a vacation rental home owe to their guests. Ultimately, the court concluded that the duty owed by a vacation rental homeowner is the same as the duty a landlord owes a tenant. In so holding, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the duty imposed on the defendant should be coextensive with that of an innkeeper.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s family rented a property in Virginia Beach that was owned by the defendants. The rental agreement was for one week, which is typical for the vacation rental houses in Virginia Beach. The house came fully furnished, and the property management company provided linens upon check-in.

Evidently, as the plaintiff was carrying a bin of linens into the home, she tripped on the raised transition strip between the carpet and tile flooring. The plaintiff fell to the ground and seriously injured her toe, which required two subsequent surgeries.

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When a Virginia personal injury case is classified as a “medical malpractice” case, there are certain requirements that apply to the plaintiff’s case. For example, Virginia medical malpractice plaintiffs are required to submit an expert affidavit supporting their claim, while victims who bring claims of traditional negligence are not required to do so. While it may seem like the distinction between a claim of medical malpractice and a claim of traditional negligence is clear, that is not always the case.In a recent case, the court heard an appeal from a hospital, claiming that the plaintiff’s lawsuit should be dismissed for failing to comply with the filing requirements for medical malpractice cases. The court, however, agreed with the plaintiff that her claims were not based on a theory of medical malpractice. Thus, the court permitted the plaintiff’s case to proceed.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a resident at an inpatient psychiatric facility when he was seriously injured after being attacked by another resident. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the facility, arguing that it failed to provide adequate security and to train staff on how to handle emergency situations like the one that resulted in his injuries. Since the plaintiff did not believe his case to be one of medical malpractice, he did not take the additional steps to comply with the state’s medical malpractice requirements. The facility argued that the plaintiff’s case was brought under a theory of medical malpractice and that he should have complied with the additional medical malpractice requirements.

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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 case.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 personal injury case arising from a slip-and-fall accident occurring in a grocery store. The case is important for anyone who has recently been the victim of a Virginia slip-and-fall accident because it illustrates the concept of the non-delegable duty of a landowner to maintain their property in a safe condition.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff visited the defendant grocery store to buy her breakfast shortly after the store opened. However, as the plaintiff approached aisle 13, she suddenly and unexpectedly slipped in a puddle of soapy water. Evidently, the water had been left by the maintenance worker who had cleaned the store’s floors the night before.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against three parties: the grocery store, the company that the store contracted with to perform all cleaning services, and the individual contractor who did the actual cleaning the day prior to the plaintiff’s fall. Prior to the case going to trial, the plaintiff settled with the individual contractor and the case proceeded to trail against the grocery store and the contracted cleaning company.

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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.

The 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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As a general rule, landowners in Virginia have an affirmative duty to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. Of course, the level of the duty imposed on a landowner depends greatly on the reason for the guest’s visit. For example, trespassers are owed a trivial duty compared to customers or those who are visiting for commercial reasons. In fact, customers are owed the highest level of care.

When a store fails to take the necessary precautions to keep their property safe, and a visitor is injured as a result of that failure, the landowner may be held liable for any injuries through a Virginia premises liability lawsuit. In order to prevail in a Virginia slip-and-fall case against a grocery store, the plaintiff must be able to prove certain elements. One of the most commonly contested elements in premises liability cases is that of the defendant’s knowledge of the hazard. A recent case shows how one plaintiff was able to establish sufficient evidence to survive a store’s motion for summary judgement.

The Facts

The plaintiff slipped and fell on a “brownish, oily substance” while shopping with her husband at the defendant grocery store. According to the plaintiff and her husband, the spill originated from a bottle of juice they had put into their cart. In support of her claim, the plaintiff presented evidence showing that at the time of her fall, a store employee was cleaning up a similar spill in an adjacent aisle.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that presents an interesting issue for Virginia slip-and-fall victims who are considering filing a premises liability claim. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence of the defendant store’s negligence to survive a defense summary judgment challenge. Ultimately, the court held that the defendant’s willful ignorance of the potential hazard may give rise to liability, and it determined that the lower court was improper to grant summary judgment to the defendant.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff slipped and fell in a Wal-Mart store while walking down an aisle. Although the plaintiff did not notice anything on the floor as she approached the spot where she fell, when she got up, she noticed that she had slipped in a puddle of water.

As it turns out, there was a Rug Doctor display in that aisle from which customers could rent carpet cleaning machines. The display was set up so that a customer could rent the machine from an automated kiosk near the machines. As a part of the agreement between Rug Doctor and Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart would receive a portion of the income the kiosk generated for allowing the use of the store’s aisle space. However, Wal-Mart employees were not necessary in the regular operation of the machine and were not trained on how to use the kiosk or repair the machines. A Rug Doctor employee would routinely stop by to perform the necessary maintenance.

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A key element in a Virginia premises liability lawsuit is establishing that the defendant landowner had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injury. If a landowner has actual knowledge of a hazard, that is generally easy to establish through the words or actions of the landowner. However, establishing constructive knowledge can be more difficult.

What Is Constructive Knowledge?

Constructive knowledge is a legal fiction, whereby a court will presume that a party had knowledge of a fact based on the circumstances. Essentially, if a court finds that a party had constructive knowledge of a fact, the court is saying that the party should have had knowledge of the fact, given the surrounding circumstances. For example, if a grocery store manager claims to not have knowledge of a puddle formed by a jar of pickles that fell from the shelf, but then he testifies that he walked by the puddle 10 times while helping customers, a court may determine that the manager had constructive knowledge of the puddle.

Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case, providing a real-world example of how courts analyze cases involving a defendant’s constructive knowledge of a dangerous hazard.

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In premises liability claims, the plaintiff must present evidence of each element in order for a judge to submit the case to a jury. If a plaintiff fails to establish each element of his claim, the judge will grant a defense motion for summary judgment, if made.

One element that is frequently contested in premises liability cases is the obviousness of the hazard. Obviousness is less an element of a claim than it is a defense. Essentially, if a defendant in a premises liability case can establish that the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries was open and obvious, the plaintiff’s case will be dismissed.

A recent case illustrates how a plaintiff’s knowledge of the hazard that caused his injuries can defeat the plaintiff’s claim.

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