WA Legal Roundup: Division II
Phelps slipped in the parking lot where she worked. She did not remember the cause of her fall and there were no witnesses. Other witnesses stated that the parking lot was icy that morning and another coworker almost fell. Phelps’ husband returned to the scene later in the afternoon and found a puddle of water (14 inches) near the rear of her vehicle. She sued the clinic owner, employer, and property manager for her injuries. They hired an accident reconstructionist to opine that the cause of the fall was ice. The Trial Court excluded Phelps’ expert’s opinions and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants for failure of plaintiff to show causation. Phelps appealed.
The Appeals Court found sufficient evidence to take the question of breach of duty to a jury wherein they noted that in the deposition of the executive director of the clinic he admitted to contacting the maintenance to assure that de-icing was being done due to the freezing weather conditions. The court stated that this was constructive notice to surpass a summary judgment motion.
Next, the court looked at the issue of causation. After it noted causation can only be determined as a matter of law if the appeals court found that reasonable minds would only reach one conclusion, the court held that, here, Phelps presented sufficient evidence would allow a reasonable inference to be drawn that she fell on ice. The court noted in particular that Phelps did not just rely on her testimony, which includes substantial memory loss, but also of medical evidence consistent with a fall, evidence that temperatures would have created ice, and other witness testimony that the parking lot was slick. Based on the above arguments the court found that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
The appeals court reviewed the trial court’s decision to exclude the accident reconstructionist because his opinion was speculation where no evidence supported it. The court again disagreed with the trial court holding that the expert’s opinions draw reasonable inferences supported by the evidence in the record. Moreover, the court stated that while there is room to challenge the expert’s opinions that is better done in cross examination.
Reversed and remanded.