A lady had been a regular customer at a deli for ten years. She claims to have regularly visited the deli to purchase food from there between 2-3 times every week. One day, she entered the deli to buy a sandwich and a cup of coffee. She exited the deli with the sandwich in one hand and the cup of coffee in the other. She was also wearing shoes with 2 inch heels. As she put one foot outside of the deli, her right foot felt like the heel of her shoe snagged on the rubber mat of the deli. She tripped and fell.
She brought a suit in damages for the trip and fall and for the personal injury caused her by the incident. She claims that the deli owner had covered the entrance of the deli with a rubber mat to hide the uneven level between the door and the pavement. The gap between the door and the pavement constituted a defect and a condition where her heel snagged and that caused the lady’s trip and fall.
For his part, the owner of the deli said he was at the store tending to customers on the day of the incident. He didn’t see the lady trip and fall. He claims to have seen no difference in the mat or on the doorway before the accident and after the incident.
The building manager claims that under the lease agreement, the deli owner was responsible for maintaining the safety of the doorways, entries and exits to and from the deli. He also testified that he has not received any complaints about the entry or exit in front of the deli.
After the depositions were all made, the deli owner moved for a summary judgment. He was granted a summary judgment and the trial court dismissed the complaint. On appeal, the order granting the deli owner’s motion for summary judgment, as well as the order dismissing the complaint, were both assailed.
The only questions in this appeal are: whether or not the trial court erred when it granted the summary judgment motion of the deli owner; and whether or not the trial court erred when it dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court upheld the orders of the trial court.
The Supreme Court ruled that when the deli owner moved for a summary judgment, the deli owner had to prove that there was no evidence that there was a pre-existing condition or defect on his premises that would cause an injury . He also had to prove that there was no evidence that the pre-existing condition or defect was known to him or that it was constructively known to him as it was visible. He also had to prove that there was no evidence that he knew about the pre-existing defect or condition and that he just did not do anything about it.
In upholding the deli owner’s assertions, the Court referred to the deposition of the lady. She claimed that she had been entering and exiting the deli for ten years, regularly buying food from there two to three times each week and she has never had an accident there before. She also testified that she did not see her foot snag on anything. She did not see her foot as she was not looking down on her feet when she was walking out of the deli. She testified that she did not see what her foot snagged on, she just said that it felt like her foot snagged on something. She was not sure if it was the carpet inside the deli or the rubber mat on the entrance. She didn’t know what she tripped on.
She also testified that she saw no problem with the doorway or the entranceway. She saw nothing loose or amiss with the doorway or the floor. She did say that she thought that the rubber mat was covering an uneven flooring and that could have been what she tripped on. She felt that her heel had snagged on something but she just could not tell what it was. The Court ruled this part of her deposition as speculative. This part of the deposition was more of a conclusion than a fact in evidence.
What was a proven fact by both the lady and the deli owner was that there was nothing broken or loose in the doorway. There was no visible defect in the entranceway or the doorway. The deli owner can only be liable for the trip and fall of the lady and for the personal injury that she sustained, if the defect or condition of the doorway was visible to anyone and yet the deli owner simply refused or failed to correct or remedy the defect. The deli owner can only be made liable if he had created the defect or condition that led to the trip and the fall. There is no such evidence of any of these circumstances.
Once the deli owner proved that from the depositions presented there was no proof of his neglect, or of his knowledge of the defect or condition that led to the trip and fall, the burden shifted to the lady to prove that there was still some issue of fact that is still in dispute between the parties that requires a trial. If there is no longer any issue of fact in dispute, then the case may be properly submitted for summary judgment as it was in this case.
The Court upheld the order of the trial court submitting the case for summary judgment. The Court also upheld the order of the trial court when it dismissed the complaint.
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