Business owners sometimes ask courts before trial to dismiss slip-and-fall lawsuits against them, citing a lack of “direct” evidence of what caused the accidents.
However, an injury victim can still present a winning case even without direct evidence.
The Georgia Appeals Court recently reinstated a slip-and-fall case that had been dismissed, saying that a trial court judge should not assume the role of the jury and make judgments on inferences from available evidence. It is the jury’s role is to weigh contradictory evidence – including all reasonable inferences from the evidence – and determine what it considers the most reasonable conclusion, the court said.
In the case, a woman visiting a hospital slipped and fell on a tiled hallway floor, breaking her hip.
The woman testified before trial that she did not see any water on the hallway floor immediately before or after her fall. She said she was in pain, briefly lost consciousness, and essentially was in no condition to examine the area where she fell.
The trial court judge dismissed the case because of a lack of direct evidence on the cause of the fall.
However, as pointed out by the Appeals Court, other evidence at the very least raised an inference that water was on the hallway floor where the injured women fell. The evidence included:
- A few minutes before the accident, a janitor in the vicinity where the woman fell wiped down a cleaning cart with a damp rag, refilled liquid disinfectant containers, and removed mop water buckets;
- The injured woman heard a nurse who came to help say, “Go get some paper towels … there’s something wet on the floor”;
- The daughter-in-law of the injured woman testified that she noticed “something” on the floor that caused her to slip when she got close to where her mother-in-law was laying on the floor;
- The janitorial staff was called to “come get the spill up” after the fall, and the responding janitor noticed a wet spot on the wall near where the injured woman fell.
The Appeals Court said it was premature to dismiss the woman’s case, and that a jury should be allowed to determine if water was on the floor, and whether the janitor and the hospital could have prevented, noticed or removed it from the floor.
The case is Smith v Tenet Health System.
If you have been injured by slipping or tripping on business premises, contact our slip-and-fall attorneys for a free consultation on your potential legal rights.