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Appellate Court Finds Lower Court Erred in Granting Summary Judgment to Fast Food Restaurant in Slip-and-Fall Case

Posted in Firm News

Last month, a state supreme court dismissed a summary judgment order granted by a lower court in a slip-and-fall case. The case stemmed from a 2013 accident in which a fast food patron was exiting the restaurant’s bathroom and fell, catching himself with his left hand. The patron immediately pushed himself up and was in a dazed and confused state. He later left the restaurant without ordering.

The patron filed a lawsuit against the fast food restaurant, alleging that he sustained injuries due to their negligence in maintaining the premises. The defendant submitted video footage showing the patron slipping but not falling near the counter where customers order their food. The plaintiff explained that he did indeed slip near the counter, but he also fell just moments before that near the bathroom. After leaving the restaurant, the plaintiff began to experience severe pain. He returned to the restaurant and spoke to the manager, who he claimed acknowledged that she witnessed him fall.

The defendant countered by filing a motion for summary judgment. The restaurant argued that the video footage proved that the patron did not slip and fall in the restaurant. The restaurant claimed that, even if the patron did fall, the danger of a wet floor was open and obvious. The circuit court denied all of the motions brought by the patron and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

On appeal, the Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court’s judgment. The Court found that the defendant did not present enough evidence to support their affirmative defense that the condition that caused the patron to fall was open and obvious. The court based its reasoning on the fact that the area captured in the video was not where the plaintiff claimed he fell.

The “Open and Obvious” Doctrine and Its Applicability in New Mexico Premises Liability Lawsuits

The fact that a hazard is “open and obvious” may be an affirmative defense used in premises liability lawsuits. Under the doctrine of premises liability, a person who possesses or controls a piece of land or property owes a duty to exercise reasonable care in protecting invitees on their land. There is an exception to this rule, however, when the hazard causing the plaintiff’s fall is “open and obvious.” This defense protects a landowner if the danger on their land should have been detected by the plaintiff.

The idea behind this doctrine is that the open and obvious nature of the condition is enough to serve as a warning to the guest. Generally, courts will determine that a condition is open and obvious if “an average user with ordinary intelligence would have been able to discover the danger and risk presented upon casual inspection.”

Premises Liability Cases in New Mexico

Interestingly, New Mexico takes a somewhat different approach when it comes to determining landowner liability. In New Mexico, courts will use general principles of negligence in premises liability cases. For example, under New Mexico UJI 13-1309 NMRA, an owner or occupier of land owes a duty of ordinary care under normal circumstances, whether or not the dangerous condition is obvious. Thus, a court may consider whether a hazardous condition is open and obvious, but that will not be the end of the analysis.

Have You Been Injured on Another Party’s Property?

If you or a loved one has been injured in a New Mexico slip-and-fall accident, you should contact one of the dedicated attorneys at the Fine Law Firm. Although proving negligence seems straightforward, in many cases it can be quite complex. There are many defenses that can be used by defendants, and an unwary plaintiff may find themselves unprepared to argue the unforeseen issue. An attorney can assist you in presenting your case and can help ensure that your rights and legal remedies are adequately addressed. If you are successful, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you sustained. To learn more, contact one of the dedicated attorneys at the Fine Law Firm for a free initial consultation at  (505) 889-3463.

More Blog Posts:

Court Dismisses Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Case Under Recreational Use Statute, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 5, 2017.

The Concept of Vicarious Liability in New Mexico Car Accidents, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 27, 2017.