Sims v. Graystone – NC Appeals Court Allows Negligence Claim

A Catawba County woman will have the chance to have her negligence claim against an ophthalmology clinic heard before a jury, after the North Carolina Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court’s summery judgment in favor of the defendant.
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The plaintiff in Sims v. Graystone Opthamology Associates alleged ordinary negligence by the staffers at the center for placing her in a rolling chair that subsequently slid out from underneath her, causing her to fall to the ground and fracture her hip and shoulder. She had to undergo surgery, rehabilitation and incurred high medical costs.

Greensboro personal injury attorneys understand the incident occurred after the plaintiff arrived for her exam, but before the exam began.

The plaintiff alleged the defendants knew or should have known the stool was dangerous, particularly for the elderly, as the plaintiff is. It had no arms or handles, and it was placed on a floor that was not carpeted.

She sought to recover $10,000 for her injuries.

The defense countered that the plaintiff shared contributory negligence. That is, she had some blame in the situation too.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is one of only a handful of states that continues to recognize the doctrine of contributory negligence, which holds that if a claimant shares any portion of responsibility for the injury, that is a bar to any amount of recovery.

In an ordinary negligence claim, a plaintiff has to show several essential elements:

  • Duty
  • Breach of duty
  • Proximate cause
  • Damages.

Even if all of these elements are met, if the defendant can show contributory negligence, the plaintiff can’t be compensated.

However, reaching a finding of contributory negligence as a matter of law should not be a simple matter, and that’s what happened here in a grant for summary judgment.

It’s undisputed here the defendant owed the patron a duty of reasonable care and that the plaintiff suffered damages as a result of her fall. However, the court of appeals reasoned, there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the staff breached their duty seating the patron in this purportedly dangerous chair, by failing to warn her that the chair was dangerous or by having this chair on site in the first place.

In fact, the defendant’s CEO testified during a deposition that he was aware of at least one other incident prior to this one in which a patient fell when one of the examination rolling chairs slid out from underneath her while she was being seated.

At the time of the incident, the patient had been instructed to roll herself up to the examination table. No one was holding on to or assisting her. Delving deeper into the facts, it’s possible a jury could find she was partially responsible for that fall.

However, it’s not a given as a matter of law. It’s an issue for the jury to decide, and the appeals court ruled accordingly.

The case is remanded back to the lower court for trial.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Sims v. Graystone Opthamology Associates, May 20, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Baird v. Owczarek – Botched Eye Surgery Plaintiff Will Have Second Chance at Trial, June 2, 2014, Greensboro Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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