Many people think of the law as being a concrete, immovable truth. But as anyone who has practiced or studied law for any length of time will tell you, it is actually fluid. It’s constantly evolving as legislatures revisit old texts, and the judiciary brings fresh interpretations to the table.
That’s why our injury lawyers are constantly watching legal developments, both here locally and in other jurisdictions. In the case of state supreme courts, a decision might not affect everyone in the country, but state high courts often pay attention to the rulings that set precedent in sister courts. Sometimes they even use that legal logic to reach similar conclusions when weighing similar sets of facts.
Recently in Kentucky, the Kentucky Supreme Court on discretionary review reversed a lower court’s ruling that failed to consider the state supreme court’s “recent attempts to modernize” a certain legal doctrine as it pertains to slip-and-fall injuries.
According to court records, the slip-and-fall case has a long procedural history, including two failed attempts to move the case to the state supreme court, two trips to the state’s Court of Appeals, and two visits to the state supreme court, including this one. Despite all this, it started as a relatively straightforward slip-and-fall lawsuit. The plaintiff was at a gas station, walking back to her vehicle after she and a friend paid for gas and purchased drinks. Her foot was caught in an eroded patch of asphalt in the middle of the driveway between two pumps. She suffered a broken ankle, a twisted knee, and burns from spilling the hot coffee she’d just purchased all over herself.
She and her husband filed a lawsuit against the gas station owner and its manager. The trial court awarded the plaintiff $200,000 in damages, which included $175,000 for pain and suffering.
The defense appealed, and the appellate court noted the failure to apply the state’s open and obvious doctrine. It reversed and remanded with an order for summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff filed a motion for discretionary review by the state supreme court. That court noted a number of recent attempts to “modernize” its open and obvious doctrine, aligning it more closely with the shift toward comparative negligence.
Comparative negligence is a doctrine whereby the presence of the plaintiff’s fault will not stand as a bar to collecting damages, but instead it is a measure by which damages can be reduced.
The state supreme court remanded the case back to the appellate court for reconsideration in light of that effort. However, the appellate court once again found for the defendant, standing by its original ruling that since the substance on which the plaintiff slipped was open and obvious, the plaintiff could not recover any damages.
The plaintiff again sought discretionary review from the state supreme court, which reversed.
Justices ruled that the appellate panel interpreted a 2010 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling too narrowly.
The court then chose, in light of the fact that the case had dragged on for so long, to depart from usual practice and address other pending issues, including the apparent comparative fault on behalf of the plaintiff. The court ruled that the trial court erred by not considering whether the plaintiff shared some blame for what happened and, based on a review of undisputed facts, failed to find that she did.
The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings with consistent findings.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Grubb v. Smith, March 23, 2017, Kentucky Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit Gets a Second Go, March 20, 2017, Personal Injury Lawyer Blog