Thursday, May 28, 2015

Judge Mark of Monroe County Grants Summary Judgment in Slip and Fall Case

In a recent Monroe County decision in the case of Smith v. Chelsea Pocono Fin. LLC, PICS Case No. 15-0602 (C.P. Monroe Dec. 29, 2015 Mark, J.), Judge Jonathan Mark of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas granted summary judgment in favor of a landowner Defendant on the basis that the Plaintiff had failed to establish any evidence of actual or constructive notice of that Defendant of any defective condition on the stairway where the Plaintiff allegedly fell and was injured.

According to a summary of the Opinion, the Plaintiff was injured while at The Crossings Premium Outlets in the Poconos. The Plaintiff was walking down a stairwell and slipped and fell, allegedly sustaining injuries.

While the Plaintiff did not know what caused her to fall, her eyewitness husband testified that the Plaintiff slipped on a french fry or a hamburger bun fragment on the steps.

Although the court found that the Plaintiff had presented evidence to establish a jury question as to the existence of a defective or dangerous condition of the stairwell, the court granted summary judgment after finding that the Plaintiff had not established that the Defendant had any actual or constructive notice of the condition that caused the fall.

More specifically, the court found nothing in the record to suggest that the condition on the steps was traceable to the Defendants or their agents, or that the Defendant otherwise had any actual or constructive notice of the condition.

The Plaintiff attempted to argue that the Defendant’s had actual notice because this type of defect occurred frequently on the premises.

This argument was rejected under the Restatement (Second) of Torts §344 as that Section, and cases related thereto, inferring actual notice under a recurring situation scenario. Judge Mark noted that those decisions came to such a finding on the basis of recurring events or conditions that had caused harm to invitees in the past in an obvious fashion.

In this Smith case, Judge Mark found that there was only an argument that the specific condition which allegedly caused the injury at issue had allegedly occurred generally in the past. Here, while there was evidence presented to show that food and other debris had been generally found on the property in the past, there was no allegation or proof that patrons slipping on food had become an epidemic on the premises.

The court also rejected the Plaintiff’s claim that the absence of any cleaning or maintenance records was sufficient to deny and otherwise properly supported Motion for Summary Judgment. The court rejected this argument as an effort by the Plaintiff to improperly reverse the burden of proof and place it upon the Defendant.

Lastly, the court also found that the Plaintiff had failed to offer any evidence as to how long the debris had been located on the steps, or that anyone had observed it prior to the Plaintiff’s incident so as to support an argument of constructive notice. The court also rejected the Plaintiff’s constructive notice argument on the basis that the debris/food on the step was crushed.

The court otherwise found that the Defendant had exercised reasonable precautionary steps to prevent accidents, including the placement of a trash can within ten (10) feet of the stairway and repeated checking of the area, specifically around restaurants. 

Copies of this case are available by calling the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service of the Pennsylvania Law Weekly at 800-276-PICS and giving the above PICS Case Number and paying a small fee.

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