In a recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, plaintiff had filed a personal injury lawsuit after he suffered an alleged slip-and-fall injury in defendant’s big box retail store. According to court testimony, the plaintiff was walking in the store when he fell on water that had allegedly been left on the floor in a negligent manner.
Plaintiff’s sister was present when the accident occurred, as was a store employee. It was not clear whether the employee actually saw the plaintiff fall, but she did get a wheelchair owned by the store to transport the victim to the front of the store, where he was taken to a local emergency room to be treated for his injuries. As for the cause of his injuries, plaintiff argued that the store roof was negligently maintained, and that resulted in water leaking from the ceiling and was negligently allowed to pool on the floor, which caused him to slip and fall, resulting in his personal injury.
As our Boston personal injury attorneys can explain, premises liability actions (getting hurt at someone’s residence or place of business due to dangerous conditions) are applied differently in Massachusetts than they do in many other states. The reason for this is because the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), which is our state supreme court, ruled in the 1970’s that common law distinctions between the type of plaintiff are no longer necessary, and a defendant property owner will be held to the standard of a reasonable and prudent person in the same or similar situation as the defendant. In most jurisdictions, the court will look at the reason the plaintiff was on the defendant’s land and uses obscure classifications like business or social invitee or licensee.
In this case, defendant argued that there was not liability on behalf of the store, because the plaintiff had failed to submit any evidence that the roof was damaged. They did this by filing a motion for summary judgment in which it argued that reasonable jury could find the defendant liable based upon the evidence proffered by the plaintiff. The trial court granted this motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s case.
At this point, plaintiff filed an appeal on grounds that there was a genuine dispute as to material facts. When a party moves for summary judgment, it is normally the defendant, but it can be the plaintiff, and the court must look at all facts in light most favorable to the non-moving party. What this means is that for the purposes of the motion for summary judgment, if defendant files, the judge must assume all facts submitted by plaintiff are true. In order to grant the motion for summary judgment, the judge must find that even if we believe everything plaintiff said, there is still no way a reasonable jury could find defendant liable. A motion for summary judgment can be made with respect to one issue or the entire case.
In this case, the court of appeals ruled that the trial judge had erred in granting the motion for summary judgment and reversed the dismissal.
If you have suffered personal injury in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.
Deshotel v. Wal-Mart Stores, March 8, 2017, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Pontoon Boat Operator Charged With Criminal Negligence in Boy’s Death, Feb. 16, 2017, Boston Sport Injury Lawyer Blog