In Marrero v. I. Manheim Auctions, Inc., the plaintiff fell after he exited a building during a rainstorm and stepped off a curb into a parking lot. He claimed he stepped into a divot where asphalt had washed away. The defendant moved for summary judgment.
In opposition, the plaintiff offered an expert affidavit that cited a lack of handrails, code violations, and loose pebbles as contributing to the plaintiff’s fall. To recover in the case, the plaintiff possessed the burden under La. R.S. 9:2800.6 to establish three elements: 1) the parking lot presented an unreasonable risk of harm, 2) this risk of harm was reasonably foreseeable, and 3) the defendant possessed actual or constructive notice of the alleged defect.
The defense argued the plaintiff could not show the parking lot presented an unreasonable risk of harm that was reasonably foreseeable and produced an expert affidavit to show the divot was only 3/16” deep. Evidence also showed the plaintiff was familiar with the area where he fell. The defendant also had received no prior complaints about the area. The trial court found that the parking lot did not present an unreasonable risk of harm because the divot was only 3/16” deep and granted summary judgment.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court should not have granted summary judgment in light of the competing expert affidavits regarding whether the parking lot presented an unreasonable risk of harm. However, when a motion for summary judgment is appealed, the court uses a de novo standard of review. Under this standard, the appellate court reviews all issues and considers all evidence submitted to the trial court in its ruling.
The First Circuit affirmed summary judgment but did so for different reasons than the trial court. The Marrero court found the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence of the third element, i.e., whether the defendant knew or should have known of the defect. Because the plaintiff failed to establish a material issue of fact as to all three required elements, summary judgment was granted. Marrero reminds that appellate courts may consider facts and legal issues the trial court did not address in its ruling.
In Cooper v. Albertsons Companies, LLC, 20-124 (La. App. 3 Cir. 10/21/20), 2020 WL 6163099, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary dismissal of plaintiff’s claims against a merchant and premises owner. The plaintiff, a vendor, made deliveries to a pharmacy on a regular basis. He slipped on a clear substance believed to be vinegar. The trial judge granted a defense summary judgment, and plaintiff appealed.
Because there was no evidence of Albertsons’ actual knowledge of the condition, the plaintiff had to demonstrate under Louisiana’s “slip and fall” statute, La. R.S. 9:2800.6, that it either created the condition or possessed “constructive knowledge” to defeat the motion for summary judgment.
No Creation of the Condition– In response to the motion for summary judgment, Cooper argued that the size and dispersal of the liquid provided circumstantial evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the merchant created the condition. The court noted that circumstantial evidence “must exclude every other reasonable hypothesis with a fair amount of certainty.” The plaintiff did not possess evidence to show that Albertsons’ employees stocked shelves that morning or even that any employee worked in the area before the fall. Simply, no facts supported an inference that Albertsons caused the spill.
No Constructive Knowledge– Cooper also failed to show how long the liquid was on the floor before he slipped. The liquid was clear, and no evidence established the spill was visible to anyone. No footprints, tracks, grocery-cart wheels, or the like were identified to suggest the length of time the liquid had been on the floor either.
Under the evidence presented, the Third circuit affirmed and found for the merchant. Handled by Keogh Cox attorneys, the Cooper case is a recent example that summary relief should be considered when plaintiff’s proof of a mandatory prerequisite to recovery in a “slip and fall” claim is lacking.
In the recent case of Riedel v. Fenasci,
2018-0540 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/28/18), _______ So. 3d _______, 2018 WL 6818716,
home buyers sued the sellers and the involved real estate agents after mold was
discovered shortly following the sale. This is a common fact pattern in humid
South Louisiana. The buyers lost in the trial court when there was no evidence
that the sellers or the agents knew of the problem. The result was affirmed by
the First Circuit Court of Appeal.
The Riedels identified mold weeks after
the closing and filed a claim with their homeowner’s insurer. But the claim was
denied when the insurer’s inspection revealed long- term damage, rot, and
deterioration in a ceiling due to water damage. That finding prompted the
Against the sellers, the Riedels contended
that they “had to have known” about the moisture and mold in the home prior to
the sale. Because the home was sold “as is,” they had to establish fraud
to recover. However, the sellers had not lived in the home for years and had
received no complaints from tenants over this time. Under such facts, the claim
of fraud was not supported.
The Riedels also sued both agents for negligent misrepresentation, and their own agent for breach of fiduciary duty. In assessing the claim against the agents, the Riedel Court agreed that real estate agents are liable for negligent misrepresentation when they fail to disclose hidden defects in the property which were known or should have been known to them. The Court also agreed that a purchaser’s real estate agent owes a fiduciary duty, the highest duty of care recognized by law. Nevertheless, when the plaintiffs’ own inspector found no visible evidence of mold prior to the sale and there was no indication that the agents possessed prior knowledge of the mold, the claim against the agents was also dismissed.
Marty Golden has been practicing law based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for over thirty years, concentrating in civil litigation primarily involving injuries, property damage, insurance coverage, and contract disputes. Much of his practice is defending and advising real estate agents in suits by property buyers and sellers, but Marty also defends other professionals, insurance companies, manufacturers, and business owners. Marty has a special interest in all things procedural, because they are the rules of the road for litigators and knowing them better than his opponent gives him a leg up in court.
When Casey Krueger and his family went to the pool at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Baton Rouge, they knew how they wanted to end their day. What the Kruegers (and La Quinta) did not know was that a piece of clear, broken glass was on the bottom of the pool. Mr. Krueger stepped on the glass and experienced a “large and deep cut” that caused permanent loss of some function of his toe. He filed suit alleging that La Quinta was negligent for the defective condition in its pool. Krueger v. La. Quinta Inn & Suites, 18-0052 (La. App. 1 Cir. 9/21/18). He also alleged the negligence of La Quinta was self- evident such that the doctrine of res ispa loquitur should apply to impose liability. His claims were rejected by the jury; the Louisiana First Circuit upheld the verdict.
“Res ipsa loquitur” is a Latin phrase that means “the thing speaks for itself.” The doctrine of res ipsa is used where a plaintiff relies solely upon circumstantial evidence to prove negligence. For res ipsa to apply, the plaintiff must: 1) prove that the injury is the kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; 2) eliminate other more probable causes of the injury (such as the conduct of the plaintiff or of third-persons); and 3) show that the negligence of the defendant fell within the scope of the duty owed to the plaintiff. Res ipsa is often cited where the defendant possessed exclusive control of the thing which caused the injury. Id.
In the Krueger case, La Quinta checked the pool twice a day and posted signs that banned glass from the pool area. There was also no evidence that it knew or should have known of the glass in the pool. After all, clear glass in a clear pool is hard to detect. Lacking direct evidence of negligence, the Kruegers hoped the res ipsa doctrine would make their case. With some justification, they contended that broken glass was not to be expected in a hotel pool. However, res ipsa was found not to apply. Because it was “possible that a third party caused broken glass to enter the pool,” the plaintiffs could not establish all three elements to the doctrine.
Collin is a Keogh Cox partner who litigates injury, commercial, and legal malpractice disputes. He lives in nearby Zachary, Louisiana with his wife Melissa and three all too active children. He is an outdoorsman, a league tennis player, a cook, and a hobbyist writer.
The “open and obvious” defense remains alive and well in Louisiana according to an article penned recently by Professor John M. Church of the LSU Law Center for the Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel. In April 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court announced Broussard v. State of Louisiana, 2012-1238 (La. 4/5/13), 113 So.3d 175, which muddied the waters regarding use of the “open and obvious” defense. Some read Broussard as a pronouncement that the “open and obvious” defense was essentially dead in Louisiana. However, as reflected in Professor Church’s article, subsequent Louisiana Supreme Court decisions have given new life to the defense.