Massachusetts Appeals Court Finds Genuine Factual Dispute Regarding Whether Auto Body Shop Caused Dangerous Ice on Which Plaintiff Fell

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently reversed a lower court’s grant of summary  judgment to defendant A Plus Auto Body regarding a plaintiff’s lawsuit for negligence following a slip and fall.In February 2013, plaintiff Nicole Fleming parked her rental car on Walnut Street while going to retrieve her own car from A Plus. As she exited her car, she slipped and fell on a patch of ice and broke her leg. Fleming sued, alleging that A Plus’ negligence caused her injury. The trial court granted A Plus’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds that it did not own or control Walnut Street, a public way, and that there was no evidence that it created a buildup of ice on Walnut Street. Fleming appealed.

To prevail, the plaintiff had to show that:  (1) the defendant owed a duty of reasonable care; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) damages resulted; and (4) there was a causal relationship between the breach and the damages. Fleming conceded that there was no evidence that the accident occurred on A Plus’ property. She contended, however, that A Plus negligently caused a runoff of water from its business that resulted in the dangerous condition.

In support of her argument, Fleming offered statements of her sister Dorothy Anderson and her niece Dominequia Anderson. Both witnesses reported to have observed a trail of black ice that originated at the defendant’s business and flowed toward the accident. But since these statements were unsworn, the motion judge disregarded them.

The appeals court noted that while the motion judge did not abuse his discretion in disregarding the unsworn statements, there was additional evidence of causation he failed to consider.

When deposed, Fleming testified that she observed that the patch of ice was 5-6 inches wide and “came all the way down” from the corner, referring to the area where A Plus was located. She had observed the defendant’s employees using a hose to wash cars in front of the business over 25 times in the past. There was less than one inch of precipitation in the month prior to the accident, and the temperature rose to 60 degrees on the two days before the plaintiff’s fall. From this evidence, a reasonable inference could be drawn that the ice upon which Fleming slipped was not caused by natural precipitation. The plaintiff also offered an expert opinion that the configuration of the exit at A Plus and the slope of the streets would cause water to flow from A Plus in the direction of the portion of Walnut Street where the accident occurred.

Noting that it was required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff at the summary judgment stage, and that the question of negligence is usually one of fact for the jury, the appeals court concluded that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant because the record created a genuine issue of material fact as to causation. Thus, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendant and remanded.

If you have been injured by another party’s negligence, you may face significant medical bills and time off work, and you may need the assistance of a personal injury lawyer to redress your injuries. At the Neumann Law Group, our personal injury attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to accident victims all over the state of Massachusetts. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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