Kentucky Appeals Court Reverses Summary Judgment to Store in Customer’s Tripping Hazard case

by Mandy Hicks

In a recent Kentucky premises liability case, a store in which a customer tripped and fell on a pallet underneath a container of pumpkins insisted that the customer’s fall was his own fault. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to the store.

Fortunately for the customer, the appellate court understood that the question was not as simple as the store made it out to be. Yes, the large box of pumpkins was clearly visible – but the wooden pallet beneath it was not necessarily noticeable to the customer under the circumstances.

Facts of the Case

In a recent unpublished Kentucky Court of Appeals case, the plaintiff was a man who tripped and fell while shopping for groceries at a store in Lexington. At the time of his fall, the man was carrying a handheld shopping basket that obscured his view of the corner of the pallet upon which he tripped. The accident caused extensive injuries to the plaintiff’s shoulder and knees, causing him to undergo multiple surgeries. He filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store, alleging that his injuries were a direct and proximate result of the store’s negligence and failure to keep the premises safe for business invitees. He sought to recover compensation for his medical costs, his lost earnings (past and future), and his pain and suffering.

The Fayette County Circuit Court granted summary judgment to the defendant and dismissed the plaintiff’s personal injury action.

Decision of the Commonwealth Court of Appeals

The reviewing appellate court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. In so doing, the court first acknowledged that land possessors have a general duty to discover unreasonably dangerous conditions and either correct them or warn those who come onto the premises about them. However, prior to a 2010 Kentucky Supreme Court decision, a landowner could not be held liable if the dangerous condition was “open and obvious.”

The court went on to explain that, since that pivotal 2010 case, however, the “open and obvious” doctrine has been modified such that the parties’ respective responsibilities for a given accident are to be determined under the principles of comparative fault. The court then disagreed with the trial court’s finding that the condition in question was open and obvious.

The court stated, “We do not believe that any reasonable person in [the plaintiff’s] position, exercising ordinary care, would have noticed the pallet corners protruding from the pumpkin display. If anything, the open and obvious nature of the large octagonal container made the existence of the small corners of the pallet less perceptible.” Although the defendant alleged that it had placed warnings on the display, the court found that genuine issues of material fact remained to be determined as to whether the warnings were adequate. Accordingly, summary judgment was improper.

Get Help with a Kentucky Premises Liability Case

Retail stores and other places of business owe certain duties to their customers. If you believe that you or a loved one has been hurt as a proximate result of a breach of that duty, you should consider speaking to a seasoned Kentucky injury lawyer about your situation. English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley represents plaintiffs in many types of personal injury lawsuits. Call us at 270-781-6500 to schedule an appointment regarding your Kentucky or Tennessee accident or injury case.

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Kentucky Supreme Court Revisits Premises Liability Case Dating Back to 2007