Articles Posted in Slip-and-Fall Accidents

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case, raising an important issue that frequently comes up in Virginia slip-and-fall cases. Specifically, the court was tasked with determining whether a business owner was reasonable in waiting until a storm passed to clear ice deposited by the storm. Applying what has come to be known as the continuing storm doctrine, the court determined that the business owner was entitled to wait a reasonable time until after the storm to clear any snow or ice left behind.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was employed as a driver for a retirement home. Primarily, the plaintiff operated a shuttle van that was used to transport residents. On one particularly rainy and cold day, the plaintiff stopped to get gas at the defendant gas station at around 7:00 a.m. At this point in time, the gas station had been open for about an hour.

As the defendant exited the shuttle to fill up the gas tank, he slipped on a patch of ice that was undisputedly caused by the freezing rain. As it turns out, moments before the plaintiff slipped and fell, a gas station employee had fallen on the ice. The employee notified her supervisor of the ice and arranged for a third-party snow-removal company to clear the ice. Of course, the ice was not cleared by the time the plaintiff fell.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Illinois issued an opinion in an interesting case that presents relevant issues to victims who are considering filing a Virginia premises liability case against a government entity. Specifically, the case deals with the state’s recreational use statute and whether the trail where the plaintiff was injured was covered under the statute. Ultimately, the court concluded that the “mixed-use” trail at issue was not covered under the statute, and thus immunity did not apply.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured while biking on a mixed-use trail. Evidently, an area of the pavement became cracked after weeds and other vegetation grew up through smaller cracks. The result was a bumpy patch of pavement.

As the plaintiff was riding in a group with her friends, one of the bicyclists ahead of her fell off her bike after running over the bumpy pavement. The plaintiff was unable to avoid a collision with her friend and ended up falling off her bike as well. She sustained serious injuries in the fall and filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city responsible for the maintenance of the trail.

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Last month, an appellate court in Mississippi issued an interesting opinion that should act as a word of caution to victims who are considering bringing an Indiana personal injury case. The opinion discusses the breadth of a settlement agreement entered into by the plaintiff and one of the parties she named as a defendant. Ultimately, due to the broad language included in the agreement, the court concluded that the agreement excused an additional party from the plaintiff’s case, despite that not being her intention.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was walking on the sidewalk in front of an auto parts store when she stepped into a sunken hole where a utility box had been placed. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of her fall, and she filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city where the accident occurred, the utility commission that placed the box, and the auto parts store.

During pre-trial negotiations, the plaintiff entered into settlement agreements with the city as well as the auto parts store. Relevant to this case is the agreement between the plaintiff and the city. That agreement included language that released the city from liability, as well as its “successors, agents, attorneys, insurers, subsidiaries, sister or parent companies, assigns, employees, representatives, [and] stockholders.”

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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.

In 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.

The 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.

The 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.

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.

One 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.

Punitive 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.

In 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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