Court Rejects Premises Liability Claim Based on Plaintiff’s Inability to Prove the Defendant Was Aware of Hazard Causing Her Fall

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.

The Facts of the Case

On a snowy day, the plaintiff visited a Walgreen’s store. While she was in the store, the plaintiff slipped and fell on what she described as a puddle of water. However, the store manager and several store employees testified that they did not recall there being any water on the floor after the plaintiff’s fall. The plaintiff’s friend, who arrived seven minutes after the plaintiff’s fall, corroborated the plaintiff’s version of events, explaining that there was water “all over the place.”

At trial, the court struck a statement made by the plaintiff to paramedics that she had slipped after stepping in a puddle of water. The court then granted summary judgment in favor of Walgreen’s. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s verdict but provided additional analysis of why the plaintiff’s case was insufficient as a matter of law. The court explained that, even if the plaintiff was able to establish that there was a puddle of water on the floor that caused her fall, the plaintiff provided no evidence that any store employee had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard.

The plaintiff attempted to meet this burden by pointing to testimony from the store manager, who admitted that it had been snowing and that customers sometimes track snow into the store, which could melt and cause a puddle to form. However, the court explained that the manager’s knowledge that a hazard could arise at any given moment “does not automatically impute instantaneous knowledge of when those hazards come about.” Thus, without more, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s case was insufficient because it failed to establish that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the puddle of water.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Virginia slip-and-fall accident that caused a spinal cord injury or another serious injury, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated Virginia personal injury attorneys at the law offices of Charles B. Roberts, P.C. have extensive experience representing victims and their families in a wide range of Virginia personal injury cases, including slip-and-fall accidents. To learn more, and to speak with Attorney Roberts about your case, call 703-491-7070 to schedule your free consultation today.

See More Blog Posts:

Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Product Liability Case After Finding Warnings Were Adequate, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, April 18, 2018.

Court Discusses Admissibility of Plaintiff’s Social Media Account, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, April 2, 2018.