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Alvarado v. Lodge at Bluffs, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

March 29, 2017

ELIZABETH ALVARADO
v.
LODGE AT THE BLUFFS, LLC, JAMES RIVER INSURANCE COMPANY, AND COLE P. PROPERTIES, L.L.C.

         On Appeal from The 20th Judicial District Court, Parish of West Feliciana, State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 22100 The Honorable Kathryn J. Jones, Judge Presiding

          Joseph M. Bruno Daniel A. Meyer New Orleans, Louisiana Attorneys for Plaintiff/ Appellant, Elizabeth Alvarado

          D. Scott Rainwater Chris W. Caswell Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Defendants/ Appellees, Lodge at the Bluffs Condominium Association, Inc. and James River Insurance Company

          BEFORE: WELCH, CRAIN, AND HOLDRIDGE, JJ.

          HOLDRIDGE, J.

         The plaintiff appeals a summary judgment dismissing her tort claims against the defendants. We affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Elizabeth Alvarado alleges that she sustained injuries on August 6, 2013, when a stool collapsed beneath her while she and her husband, Dr. Luis Alvarado, were paid guests at The Lodge at the Bluffs, a condominium resort in St. Francisville, Louisiana. On March 24, 2014, Elizabeth filed suit against the Lodge at the Bluffs Condominium Association, Inc., and its insurer, James River Insurance Company, as well as Cole P. Properties, L.L.C., the owner of the condominium unit in which the stool was located.[1]

         After denying any liability, the Lodge and Cole Properties filed motions for summary judgment seeking a dismissal of Elizabeth's claims. The Lodge asserted that it did not own or maintain the stool and that it had no prior knowledge of any defects in the stool. Cole Properties did not dispute that it owned the unit, but contended that it did not have custody or garde of the stool, because the Lodge contractually assumed that responsibility. Cole Properties further asserted that the plaintiff could not prove that the stool had a defect or that Cole Properties knew or should have known of any defect. Elizabeth opposed both motions.

         The evidence offered in connection with the motions for summary judgment established that the condominium unit leased by the Alvarados was owned by Cole Properties and was included in a "rental pool." For units included in the rental pool, the resort functioned much like a hotel, with the Lodge being responsible for booking guests, collecting and remitting rent, and cleaning the units before and after a guest's stay.

         The interior of each unit, including the furniture, was owned by the respective unit owners. The furniture in the subject unit (sometimes referred to as "unit 10") included a small stool that was located in front of a vanity and mirror. The stool, according to both Elizabeth and Luis, appeared normal and did not look broken or otherwise unusable. As Elizabeth prepared to use the vanity area, she sat on the stool and it collapsed, causing her to fall to the floor. After assisting his wife, Luis inspected the stool and immediately noticed that two or three screws were missing from its underside. Luis searched throughout the room for the screws but did not find them.

         After the incident was reported, an employee of the Lodge, Elizabeth Smith, came to unit 10 and observed the bottom of the stool where the screws were missing. After looking around on the floor, Smith was also unable to find any of the missing screws. Smith prepared a statement documenting the accident, wherein she stated, in relevant part, "Mrs. Alvarado, a guest in Unit 10, sat on the vanity stool and it collapsed under her, due to two missing screws." Photographs of the stool attached to Smith's deposition show empty screw holes where the legs of the stool attach to its underside.

         In denying responsibility for the stool's condition, both defendants relied upon provisions contained in the "RENTAL POOL AGREEMENT" applicable to unit 10. Pursuant to that agreement, Cole Properties was responsible for furnishing and maintaining the unit, but the Lodge was obligated to make reasonable efforts to notify Cole Properties of any necessary repairs. The Lodge also had the right to make the repairs, but the cost of the repairs had to be paid by Cole Properties.

         Depositions of representatives of both defendants were also introduced in connection with the motions. A representative of the Lodge testified that the unit owner was responsible for everything inside a unit, including the furniture. However, according to a representative of Cole Properties, the owner relied on the Lodge to maintain, inspect, and repair the unit.

         The evidence also established that condominium units in the rental pool were cleaned by employees of the Lodge before and after each rental by a guest. If a member of the cleaning staff noticed any issues with a unit, the matter was noted in a cleaning report and was communicated to a supervisor for further attention. The Lodge was not aware of any reported problems for unit 10; and the cleaning reports for ...


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