Category: Evidence

Premises Liability: Defense Summary Judgment in an Accident Involving Rolling Chair

A recent decision from the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal re-affirms the merchant liability rules.  In Carolyn R. Miller and Steven Rathjen v. Willis Communications, et. al., 19-787 (La. App. 3 Cir. 6/24/20), the plaintiff was an elderly patron of an AT&T store.  Plaintiff and her daughter were assisted at the customer service desk, and plaintiff took a seat in a rolling chair.  When she attempted to stand up, the rolling chair moved, and she fell to the floor breaking a hip.

Plaintiff filed suit under the merchant’s liability statute, La. R.S. 9:2800.6.  Per the statute, if a negligence claim is brought against a merchant by a person lawfully on the merchant’s premises for injuries sustained because of a fall, then plaintiff must prove: 1) that the condition of the merchant’s premises presented an unreasonable risk of harm that was reasonably foreseeable; 2) that the merchant created the risk or had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition; and 3) that the merchant failed to exercise reasonable care to address the unreasonable risk of harm.  Plaintiff argued that an unreasonable risk of harm was created when she was given a chair on rollers on flooring allegedly unsafe for use with a rolling chair.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court.  The appellate court reversed and entered summary judgment.  The appellate court found that the critical element of plaintiff’s burden of proof was missing – any defect in the rolling chair.  Plaintiff admitted that the chair was not defective.  Instead, she argued that she should not have been given a rolling chair to sit in because of her age, obvious mobility issues, and because the rolling chair was unsafe on the flooring of the store. 

Evidence was presented that: 1) plaintiff’s daughter was able to maneuver the rolling chair without incident; 2) the daughter did not believe that plaintiff would have trouble navigating the rolling chair; and 3) no other customer had ever fallen out of one of the rolling chairs.  Simply, what occurred at the AT&T store was an accident, for which AT&T and its employees were not responsible.  Plaintiff, well aware of her own physical limitations, chose to sit in a rolling chair that she physically was unable to get out of on her own.  Based upon this evidence, the court reasoned that plaintiff did not prove that: 1) the rolling chair posed an unreasonable risk of harm; or 2) the merchant possessed actual or constructive knowledge of any defect.

Following decisions which imposed harsh standards upon retailers, the Louisiana Legislature adopted the merchant’s liability statute to limit recovery to cases involving true negligence.  The Carolyn R. Miller decision demonstrates that the statute is properly used in motion practice to resolve cases where the merchant lacks advance knowledge of the claimed unreasonable risk. Sometimes, an accident is just an accident.


Virginia “Jenny” McLin is a partner at Keogh Cox who practices in the fields of corporate litigation, insurance defense and workers compensation defense.  When she is not practicing law, Jenny can be found volunteering with the Junior League of Baton Rouge; cheering for the LSU Tigers with her husband Ryan; or shuffling her two kids to and from dance practice.

“Constructive Knowledge” in Slip and Fall Suits: Time on Your Side

Louisiana’s “slip and fall” statute La. R.S. 9:2800.6 was enacted in response to an elevated burden of proof imposed upon retailers.  To recover, a patron must prove both the existence of an unreasonably dangerous condition and that the merchant created or possessed actual or constructive knowledge of the condition.  Two recent Louisiana decisions demonstrate that the plaintiff’s burden to show knowledge is often difficult to meet.

In Fountain v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 19-669 (La. App. 3 Cir. 3/18/20), 2020 WL 1307417, Fountain entered the store while it was raining.  After shopping for 30 to 40 minutes, he visited the Garden Center and fell in a puddle of water he estimated as 8 inches by a foot and a half.  There was no direct evidence Wal-Mart was aware of the alleged defect.  Without actual knowledge, Fountain possessed the burden to demonstrate “constructive notice.”  To prove constructive notice, the plaintiff must come forward with “positive evidence showing that the damage-causing condition existed for some period to time, and that such time was sufficient to place the merchant defendant on notice of its existence.”  Under case facts, the trial court determined that Fountain had not demonstrated this “temporal” element and dismissed the case on motion practice.  The dismissal was upheld by the Louisiana Third Circuit.

In Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment, Fountain made a three-fold argument.  First, he alleged that a Wal-Mart employee told him that the water on the floor came from a lady who shook a broken umbrella in the area.  The court held that Fountain’s self-serving testimony and reliance upon a hearsay statement was insufficient to establish notice. 

Next, Fountain alleged that a manager’s testimony that a large amount of water was found in the general area showed that Wal-Mart “knew or should have known.” Nevertheless, there was no evidence as to how long the water had existed on the floor. 

Finally, Fountain cited to video surveillance showing that numerous persons could have tracked water into the area.  Distinguishing cases where employees had worked in the precise area of the hazard, the Fountain court stated “our de novo review of the record reveals Mr. Fountain failed to present evidence as to length of time the puddle was on the floor prior to the accident.  Therefore, he did not carry his burden of proving that Wal-Mart had constructive knowledge of the condition.”

Similarly, in Bryant v. Ray Brandt Dodge, Inc., 19-464 (La. App. 5 Cir. 3/17/20), 2020 WL 1270963, summary judgment was upheld where the plaintiff lacked positive evidence of how long the condition (a few spots of water) existed prior to the accident.  The plaintiff argued that an employee who used the restroom approximately five minutes before was the most likely cause of the alleged hazard. However, this argument was rejected as “mere speculation.”

In these cases, whether an unreasonably dangerous condition is present is a critical issue.  However, as seen in Bryant and Fountain, how long the condition existed is sometimes just important.  In many cases, time is not on the plaintiff’s side.


Tori works toward efficient, cost-effective resolution strategies, whether in or out of the courtroom.  When she is not in the office or in a courtroom, she can be found with her husband and two kids at ballfields, ballet recitals or her local church.

Google Earth Images Ruled Admissible

Recently, a Louisiana appellate court found that images from Google Earth images were admissible.   In Walker v. S.G.B.C., LLC, 2019-506 (La.App. 3Cir. 2/5/20); — So.3d —, 2020 WL 563818, the Louisiana Third Circuit rejected a challenge to the use of the images on the basis that they were not properly authenticated. 

In this case, the plaintiff sought recognition of a historical servitude of passage from his landlocked property. During the trial, the plaintiff offered Google Earth images of the property to show a gravel pathway on the alleged right of way. The images were dated January 2004, November 2005, and December 2017.  Multiple witnesses identified the path on the images. Thereafter, the trial court admitted the images into evidence over the defendant’s objections.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the images were not properly authenticated under La. C.E. art. 901 because the plaintiff did not: (1) have the creator of the images testify to their authenticity; (2) get a certification from Google that the images were what they purported to be; and (3) have an expert testify that the images were accurate depictions of what they claimed to be.

The Walker court affirmed the trial court ruling that these images were admissible. Louisiana Code of Evidence Article 901(B)(1) provides the testimony of a witness with personal knowledge may supply the authentication of evidence required for its admission. Because the plaintiff identified various landmarks on each image, and each image was subsequently recognized by multiple witnesses (including the defendant’s witnesses), the Court concluded there was sufficient support for finding the images authentic.

In Walker, the precise dates the photographs were taken were not critical. Under different facts, courts may choose to apply the authentication rules of Article 901 more stringently.


Chris Jones is a partner with Keogh Cox in Baton Rouge, LA.  He focuses his practice on class actions and mass torts, and handles these matters in courts throughout the country.  He is a life-long resident of Baton Rouge, where he lives with his wife and four children.

Black Boxes: The Secrets Your Vehicle Keeps

By Brian Butler

Many do not realize modern vehicles are always ready to record critical driving information. As with airplanes, most passenger vehicles are now equipped with Event Data Recorders (EDR), or “Black Boxes.” This information may be critical after an accident to show what happened, and who was at fault.

EDRs may record pre-event data for five seconds before and one second after an accident, possibly including vehicle speed, engine speed, percent throttle, change in velocity, and whether the brakes were applied. The make and model of the vehicle will determine what data is available. If you want this data, you must act quickly because it will be “overwritten” at some point if the vehicle continues in use.

It is also important to retain a competent expert to download the data. In Laborde v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., 82 So. 3rd 1237 (La. 3/9/2011), the trial court excluded the printout of data downloaded from a Black Box because of the boxes “chain of custody” and the method the information downloaded.  It is important that your legal team knows how to obtain and preserve this evidence.

Data from Black Boxes can be useful in many ways. In some cases, it may help to prove that the accident involved a low impact or to show that no brakes were applied. In other cases, it may harm your position, but the data is almost always relevant. There are costs in downloading and interpreting the data. But in the right case, the secrets kept in the Black Box may be the only way to reveal the truth.

Brian has been doing defense work for the last 28 years. He has handled all types of defense matters over his career, but in recent years his practice has been focused in serious injury or damage cases and has worked extensively with experts involving complex cases, fire cases, and forensic work. 

“IME” Killer Bill Put Down

The Louisiana plaintiffs’ bar recently sought to tilt the scales of justice through Senate Bill 185, a bill seeking to complicate a defendant’s efforts to obtain an Independent Medical Examination (“IME”). An IME is an examination of the plaintiff by a physician or medical examiner hired by the defense. IMEs are important in the defense of a case and often act as a catalyst for settlement or to reduce the value of a claim.

Bill 185 was introduced by Senator Jay Luneau (D) and passed with a unanimous 35 – 0 vote in the Senate. The bill proposed amendments to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1464 to impose the following conditions upon IMEs:

  • All parties would be barred from referring to an IME as “independent” in the presence of a jury. 
  • A plaintiff could not be ordered to submit to multiple examinations by multiple physicians within the same field of specialty, regardless of the number of defendants. 
  • The party to be examined would have the right to have a person of his or her choosing present during the exam, including the plaintiff’s attorney.
  • The party to be examined would have the right not only to have the entire examination videotaped, but the ability to force the party requesting the examination to pay for all associated costs. 

Were these conditions enforced, many physicians might have chosen not to provide IMEs at all when the process would involve: a potentially adversarial plaintiff’s attorney; a patient room packed with video equipment; and, the spectacle of it all captured on tape. Further, the bill would have stifled the ability to defend injury claims.

We may never know what effect these changes might have brought. On May 16, 2017, the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee, involuntarily deferred on a 4-4 vote. This action effectively killed the bill and saved the IME as currently understood.

 

By: John Grinton, a Keogh Cox associate whose practice areas include commercial and construction litigation. When he is not practicing law, John spends most of his time with his wife, Kellye, and their two dogs.

Smart Phones: Dangerous Weapons?

In Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473, 2477, 189 L. Ed. 2d 430 (2014), the Supreme Court considered whether police officers could search the contents of a smart phone incident to an arrest. In Riley, an alleged gang member was arrested for possession of a concealed firearm. At the precinct, a police officer went through the arrestee’s smart phone looking for evidence of other crimes and found a picture of the arrestee next to a car connected to a drive-by-shooting.

Were You Lying Then, Or Are You Lying Now?

Witness For The Prosecution was a 1957 film about the testimony of a German-born wife whose husband was on trial for murdering a rich woman. Based upon an Agatha Christie novel, the film gave a quote which has been parroted by attorneys ever since.

Sir Wilfrid: And when you said that he had accidentally cut his wrist, again, you lied? 

Helm: Yes!

Sir Wilfrid: And now today you’ve told us a new story entirely! The question is, Frau Helm, were you lying then, [or] are you lying now?