Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Summary Judgment for Defendant in Lancaster County Trip and Fall on Steps Case

In the recent trip and fall case of Harbison v. JPS Getty, Inc., PICS No. 12-0074 (C.P. Lancaster, Dec. 22, 2011 Knisely, J.) Judge Howard F. Knisely of the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas ruled that the alleged danger caused by uneven steps at a convenient store should have been known or obvious to a plaintiff and, with the plaintiff having a duty under the law to look where she was walking and see that which was obvious, the court granted the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff admitted that she had visited the subject convenient store on numerous prior occasions.

On the day of the incident, as the Plaintiff walked up to the steps to reach the concrete apron surrounding the store, she noticed a woman with a walker exiting the store. The Plaintiff attempted to hold the door open for that person and, without looking down, stepped backwards and fell to the pavement.

The Plaintiff had apparently assumed that there was two steps down off the concrete pad but it turned out that there was only one. The Plaintiff sued, alleging that the steps to the store constituted a dangerous or hazardous condition.

After discovery, the Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment asserting that the Plaintiff had failed to establish a case of negligence.

In agreeing with the Defendant’s position, the trial court relied upon the Superior Court's decision in Villano v. Sec. Sav. Assoc., 407 A.2d 440 (Pa. Super. 1979), in which the court held that uneven steps could be an obvious condition that a defendant was not required to protect a plaintiff against.

The trial court in this Harbison case felt that the alleged danger caused by the steps at the store should have been known and obvious to the Plaintiff. Accordingly, the Defendants were found not to be responsible for the Plaintiff’s injuries.

The Court emphasized in this Opinion that the Plaintiff admitted that she was not looking down when she stepped backwards. It was reiterated in the Opinion that the Plaintiff had a duty to look where she was walking and to see what was obvious.

Anyone desiring a copy of this case may contact the Pennsylvania Law Weekly Instant Case Service at 1-800-276-PICS and pay a small fee.

Source: Pennsylvania Law Weekly “Digest of Recent Opinions” (Jan. 17, 2012).

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