State Supreme Court Throws Out Jury Verdict in Premises Liability Case

The Supreme Appellate Court of West Virginia recently decided to reverse a judgment of over $55,000 that had been awarded to a plaintiff after a jury trial in a negligence case filed against a public parks commission by an injured plaintiff. The original verdict and award, based on the jury’s finding that the park operators had negligently failed to keep the grounds of the park safe for visitors, was reversed after the high court found that the plaintiff failed to prove the causation element of his premises liability claim. As a result of the recent ruling, the defendant has been relieved of any responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries as a matter of law, and the plaintiff will be unable to recover compensation for his claim.

Wood FencePlaintiff Falls Down a Hill after Leaning on an Unsafe Fence

The plaintiff in the case of Wheeling Park Commission v. Dattoli was a man who was injured while visiting a park operated by the defendant in September 2007. According to the facts noted in the recent opinion, the plaintiff was with his wife standing atop a hill when he leaned against a fence post to rest and put his hand on the top rail. The plaintiff testified that he briefly inspected the fence rail before leaning on it, and it appeared to be in good repair. Despite its appearance, the wooden rail had partially decayed and was not strong enough to support the man’s weight, causing it to break from the fence post and sending the man over the lower railing and down the hill, causing him to seriously injure his shoulder.

Plaintiff Files a Personal Injury Lawsuit and is Awarded Damages in a Jury Trial

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that their negligence in failing to properly keep up the fence or warn visitors that they shouldn’t lean on it was the cause of his injuries. At trial, the plaintiff called the park’s director of operations as a witness. The witness testified that the wooden fence was at least 17 years old at the time of the accident and could produce no evidence that the fence had been repaired or maintained since it was installed. Based on the evidence produced at the trial, a jury awarded the plaintiff over $55,000 for his medical expenses and lost wages as a result of the injuries he suffered.

The High Court Disregards the Jury’s Verdict

On appeal, the defendant argued that the jury’s verdict was flawed as a matter of law, and the case should have been decided in their favor without being submitted to the jury. The defendant’s primary argument was that the plaintiff produced no evidence to prove causation between the negligence of the park authorities and the man’s injuries. Specifically, the defense argued that the plaintiff did not offer evidence concerning which actions the defendant should have taken in order to safely maintain the fence, nor did he offer evidence that the defendant had any reason to believe that the fence presented a danger to the public. The appellate court ultimately agreed with the defendant’s arguments and ruled that the lower court was mistaken to allow the jury to reach a verdict on the case.

Elements of a Florida Premises Liability Claim

As in West Virginia, a plaintiff in a Florida premises liability lawsuit is responsible to produce evidence at trial that would meet every element of a valid premises liability or negligence claim. If a plaintiff fails to do so, their case can be resolved for the defendant without going to the jury. To succeed in a Florida premises liability claim alleging a landowner’s liability for a dangerous condition, a plaintiff must offer evidence to prove that the landowner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition, that the landowner failed to repair or give warning of the dangerous condition, and that the plaintiff was injured by the dangerous condition.

If a plaintiff fails to produce evidence of these elements before they close their case at trial, the defendant may be able to obtain a ruling in their favor, even if the plaintiff would be able to produce the evidence easily were they permitted to present their case again. For this reason, it is important for victims of negligence to retain a highly qualified Florida premises liability attorney as soon as possible after they are injured by a dangerous condition.

Are You a Victim of Negligence?

If you or a loved one has been injured or died from a dangerous condition existing on another party’s property, the experienced South Florida premises liability attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank can ensure that your claim is made properly before the court and advocate for a jury to award you the compensation that you deserve. Our qualified Miami personal injury attorneys represent clients with cases in the Miami area and throughout South Florida. If you have been seriously injured by the negligence of another party, contact us toll-free at 877-448-8585 or complete our web form for a free consultation. Se habla Español / Nou Parlé Creole.

More Blog Posts:

State Supreme Court Reverses Judgment for Defendant in Wrongful Death Claim, May 12, 2016, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

State Supreme Court Rules that Post-Mortem Misconduct by Doctor Is Medical Malpractice, Reverses Damages Award, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published June 13, 2016.

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