Trial Judge Improperly Weighs Evidence During Summary Judgment Motion in Recent Premises Liability Lawsuit

In many Indiana personal injury cases, one or more parties files a motion for summary judgment before the witnesses are sworn and the actual trial begins. By filing a motion for summary judgment, a party is asking the trial judge to make a determination that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In other words, the filing party is claiming that when the judge considers all of the uncontested evidence, the non-moving party could not prevail under the applicable law.

Importantly, when there is conflicting evidence regarding a material issue in the case, summary judgment is not appropriate, and the case will be permitted to proceed toward a jury trial. A recent case illustrates how courts view defense summary judgment motions, and the type of evidence necessary to survive such a motion.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and her husband were shopping when at the defendant grocery store. At some point during their shopping trip, the plaintiff left her husband to use the restroom. On her way back to find her husband, the plaintiff slipped on a “brownish, oily substance.” As a result of the fall, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries and later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store.

The evidence presented to the court showed that, in addition to the spill that caused the plaintiff’s fall, there was another spill in an adjacent aisle. In fact, a store employee was in the process of cleaning up that spill when the plaintiff fell. Coincidentally, after his wife left but before she returned from the restroom, the plaintiff’s husband noticed that a bottle of juice the couple had placed in their cart was leaking.

The plaintiff’s theory was that the defective bottle of juice leaked as the plaintiff’s husband was shopping, and it caused both of the spills. The fact that the store employee was cleaning up a spill on a different aisle, the plaintiff argued, was evidence that the store was aware of the spill.

The store filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to establish that it had knowledge of the spill, which was a required element of her claim. The trial court granted the defense motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court rejected the store’s argument on appeal, finding that the plaintiff did present sufficient evidence to survive the defense motion for summary judgment. The court explained that it is not the trial court’s role to weigh the evidence but only to determine if a genuine issue exists. Here, the court held, the plaintiff’s evidence gave rise to a genuine issue regarding the store’s knowledge of the spill. Thus, the court held, it was improper to dismiss the case in a motion for summary judgment.

Have You Been Injured in an Indiana Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Indiana slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. The dedicated Indiana personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse have extensive experience representing victims in all types of Indiana premises liability lawsuits. To learn more, call 888-532-7766 to schedule a free consultation today.

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Court Discusses the Summary Judgment Standard in Recent Premises Liability Lawsuit, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, June 5, 2018

Court Determines Landowner May Be Entitled to Immunity Under Recreational-Use Statute Even When Land is Not Solely Used for Recreational Purposes, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, May 21, 2018