Alcala v. Marriott Int’l, Inc. – $1.2M Slip-and-Fall Verdict Reversed, New Trial Ordered

It’s July, so perhaps now is not the best time to talk about icy walkways and snow-slicked floors. But slip-and-fall lawsuits can be filed at any point in the year, and some of the principles that apply to wintertime slip-and-falls can be useful in other seasons too. icewalk

In the recent Iowa Supreme Court case of Alcala v. Marriott Int’l, Inc., a $1.2 million personal injury verdict was overturned after the high court determined the trial court improperly submitted a negligent training theory without first eliciting testimony on the standard of care for worker training and then proving a breach of that standard. The trial court also reportedly made the mistake of instructing jurors that an icy walkway violated the private safety code that violates slip-resistant construction materials, despite conflicting expert testimony.

According to court records, this premises liability action arose from an incident that occurred in January 2010. Plaintiff, a software consultant, was based in Texas but often traveled out-of-state to clients that were having the software installed. On this particular incident, plaintiff was on such a business trip and was staying at a local hotel, owned and operated by defendant. Just before 8 a.m. one morning, she was exiting the hotel to head to the client’s office when she slipped and fell, breaking her ankle. 

Two years later, plaintiff filed her lawsuit alleging defendant negligently caused her injuries because it allowed snow and ice to collect on the outdoor walkway, did not maintain a safe premises, failed to properly train workers to be responsible for addressing ice on sidewalks and did not warn guests of the dangerous condition.

At trial, no witnesses testified as to the standards for training of workers employed by the hotel. Specifically, de-icing standards were left out of the testimony entirely, even though that was the crux of plaintiff’s argument.

Workers did testify that the procedure for snow and ice at the hotel was for a worker to take a bucket of salt outside and sprinkle it everywhere ice was found. Snow was shoveled the best it could be before salting. At least three times in a shift, someone would walk the premises, inspect and shovel and salt as necessary. The manager said that all employees watched a video that detailed winter weather safety when they were hired and then a meeting was held at the start of winter season to go over the basic.s

But was this sufficient? Clearly, we know it didn’t stop the accumulation of ice on the walkway where plaintiff was injured in her slip-and-fall accident. But it’s difficult to say whether any industry standards were violated because neither side presented evidence to outline what those industry standards are.

Other witnesses contradicted the hotel staffers’ assertion that they checked regularly for ice and snow on the property. For example, a paramedic responding to the location where plaintiff fell later characterized the walkway as being “8 out of 10” in terms of slipperiness.

As far as whether the walkway met certain private safety standards in its construction, plaintiff expert witness testified the sidewalk did not meet the standards set forth by the American National Standards Institute. However, the trial court inserted this as fact into the jury instructions, even though there was conflicting testimony about it.

In the end, the state supreme court decided the best way to cure these errors was to have a new trial.

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

Additional Resources:

Alcala v. Marriott Int’l, Inc., June 10, 2016, Iowa Supreme Court

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