North Carolina Appellate Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Staircase Trip and Fall Injury Claim

Premises liability accidents involve any injury that happens on someone else’s property as a result of the property owner’s failure to maintain the premises in a safe manner. Many people commonly associate this type of accident with a slip and fall at the supermarket but there are countless different scenarios that have caused North Carolina residents to suffer injuries. As seasoned Raleigh personal injury attorneys, we are ready to help you fight for the settlement or the judgment that you deserve.

In a recent claim, a plaintiff attended a funeral at a church in Dunn, North Carolina, where he claimed that he suffered injuries while carrying the deceased’s casket during the service. The plaintiff offered to help carry the casket after the minister asked the plaintiff if he would be willing to help because there were not enough church employees to help carry the casket out of the church after the service.

The plaintiff exited the church at the start of the service and walked to the hearse where the casket was located. When the plaintiff was carrying the casket along with other pallbearers back through the same entrance, he alleged in his complaint that he tripped on the top step of the staircase and suffered injuries to his knees.

The plaintiff alleged a number of causes of action in his complaint including res ipsa loquitur, which means that the injury could have only happened as the result of someone’s negligence. The plaintiff pointed to the difference in height between the top step and the step below it in support of this claim, alleging that the distance was too great.

The church moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff had seen the step and navigated it successfully on his way out of the church to obtain the casket only moments before tripping. The plaintiff opposed the motion and offered an affidavit from an engineering expert indicating that the stairs were defective. The trial court granted the church’s summary judgment motion finding that the stair presented an open and obvious condition that the plaintiff was aware of and the plaintiff appealed.

On review, the appellate court reversed the grant of summary judgment on the basis that a reasonable person would not have known to take extra precautions against the step. The appellate court noted that the plaintiff indicated that he fell not because he was carrying a casket but because the height between the top stair and the remaining stairs was unusual. He also testified that he did not notice the height discrepancy when he was exiting the chairs. The appellate court concluded that these factual items created genuine disputes regarding whether the plaintiff was contributorily negligent or whether the church failed to provide sufficient warnings regarding the step.

If you were injured on someone else’s property, it is important that you seek counsel from an experienced and diligent personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. At Maurer Law, we will ensure that you receive the responsive and compassionate legal care that you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call us at 844-817-8058 or contact us online.