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Reider v. Christus Health Southwestern Louisiana

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

April 5, 2017



          Jerald L. Album Suzanne M. Ganucheau Reich, Album & Plunkett, L.L.C. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.

          Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC Mark A. Delphin Arthur J. O'Keefe Delphin Law Offices COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE.

          Ronnaesa Reider Marne Jones Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, LLP COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE Christus Health Southwestern Louisiana.

          Court composed of Marc T. Amy, Billy Howard Ezell, and Shannon J. Gremillion, Judges.

          MARC T. AMY JUDGE.

         The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant hospital and the defendant maintenance company due to injury allegedly sustained in a fall at the hospital. She filed a motion for summary judgment against the maintenance company, submitting a video of the incident as well as witness statements indicating that liquid was on the floor. Following a hearing, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The resulting judgment indicated both that the maintenance company was fully at fault in causing the plaintiff's fall and that the plaintiff was free of fault. The maintenance company appeals. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The plaintiff, Ronnaesa Reider, filed this matter after falling in the hallway of Christus Health Southwestern Louisiana d/b/a Christus St. Patrick Hospital. By her petition, the plaintiff alleged that, on August 21, 2013, she and a friend, Brandi Jones, were visiting the hospital and that they were "walking down a hallway when, suddenly and without warning, she slipped and fell due to water and/or liquid on the floor surface." She alleged that the "fall caused her to sustain serious and grievous personal injuries and other damages." Specifically, the plaintiff alleged injury to her knee. She initially named Christus St. Patrick Hospital as the defendant, contending that the hospital was negligent and/or strictly liable for, among other things, allowing liquid to remain on the floor surface. It also advanced liability based upon a failure to warn. She sought both general and special damages related to the alleged injury.

         By amended petition, the plaintiff added Hospital Housekeeping Systems, Ltd. d/b/a Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC (HHS), as a defendant.[1] The plaintiff again alleged negligence and/or strict liability against the defendants asserting liability due to, among other things, the presence of a liquid on the floor, failure to warn of the danger of slipping and/or falling, and failure to post visible warning signs. By its answer to the petition, HHS denied the plaintiff's allegations and asserted that "the sole and proximate cause of the accident sued upon herein were the acts, commissions, omissions and negligence of others for whom this defendant is not answerable or responsible."

         Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment and asserted that she was entitled to judgment indicating that HHS was "one hundred (100%) at fault in causing the fall made the basis of the above claim for damages." She further sought a determination that she was "free of fault[.]" In support of her motion, the plaintiff included an excerpt from her deposition, as well as one from Brandi Jones, in which both women addressed her fall. Both women identified a wet streak on the floor at the time of the incident.

         The plaintiff also introduced surveillance footage from the hallway in the minutes before, during, and after the plaintiff's fall. In her memorandum in support of the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff included still images captured from the video, and asserted that they captured HHS employee Jamon Thomas using a scrubber machine on the floor "[m]oments before [her] fall[.]" The plaintiff noted the machine's movement in the hallway prior to the fall and suggested that "[i]nstead of cleaning and drying the floor as the machine makes its "S" maneuver, it left a streak of transparent water and cleaning fluid on the floor." Again referencing photographic images from the video, the plaintiff asserted that after Mr. Thomas left the scene, she and Ms. Jones entered the hallway, and that, after she stepped "forward in the area where the machine made its "S" turn, " her left foot slid and she fell "hard on her right knee." Referencing her deposition testimony, the plaintiff explained that she then identified a streak of liquid on the floor and that her pant leg was wet. The plaintiff then noted that she thereafter stopped hospital personnel, showing the person that there was water on the floor and that the video images reveal Mr. Thomas returning to the area with the scrubber machine. The plaintiff also introduced the affidavit of Mr. Thomas, noting that he explained therein that he returned to the hallway and that, upon cleaning the area, he identified a narrow streak of liquid on the floor, appearing to him that the wiper of the machine failed to remove the subject liquid.

         In opposition, HHS suggested that its own evidence demonstrated genuine issues of material fact regarding whether a foreign substance was on the floor, whether it had actual or constructive knowledge of that condition, or whether it created such a condition. In particular, HHS noted that in her deposition, the plaintiff explained that the streak of water ran the length of the hall. This description, HHS asserted, differed from her affidavit and from Ms. Jones's deposition, wherein she only identified drops in a line, but explained that the streak was only three to five feet long.

         Turning to the video footage, HHS suggested that the video identified "a clean, clear hallway" and that it did not appear different before or after Mr. Thomas is shown passing with the scrubber machine. It further asserted that an unidentified male shown on the video prior to the plaintiff's arrival is shown to "place[] his left foot in the exact spot in which Ms. Reider claims to have slipped on water, which occurs exactly 0:05 seconds before Ms. Reider slips." It suggests that the fall therefore could have "been caused by the shoe of the unidentified male that steps on the exact spot 0:05 seconds prior" to the fall.

         Additionally, HHS argued that the videotape rendered Mr. Thomas's affidavit unreliable, insofar as he had explained therein that he discovered liquid upon his return to the scene, but the video revealed that he did not stop and inspect the area. Rather, HHS asserted that Mr. Thomas re-entered the hallway with the scrubber machine, but that the video did not evidence that the squeegee function of the machine was engaged at that time. In this regard, HHS further offered the affidavit of Sutton Francis, who explained that in his role as "PM Assistant Director at HHS" at Christus St. Patrick Hospital, he had personal knowledge of the scrubber machine operated in the surveillance video. He stated in the affidavit that, having viewed the video, it appeared "that both the front scrubber pad and the back squeegee were raised and therefore, the machine is not being used to scrub the floor" and that "[w]hen the scrubber head is up, the machine is not placing any liquid on the ground." He concluded the affidavit by opining that: "Because both the front scrubber pad and back squeegee are up when the HHS employee passes down the hall prior to Ms. Reider's incident, if there is any liquid on the floor, it neither came from nor was affected (smeared) by the Tennet T3 Floor Scrubber machine."

         Finally, HHS introduced an excerpt of Mr. Thomas's deposition and asserted that it rendered his affidavit unreliable. It argued that his testimony, coupled with the surveillance video, countered the plaintiff's "insistence that she fell on a foreign substance." HHS suggested instead that the video and derivative photographs revealed "no obvious substance on the floor" and that it "appears to be in the exact same condition before and after Mr. Thomas passes with the scrubber machine before the plaintiff's fall." It further referenced passages from Mr. Thomas's deposition in which he denied seeing any liquid on the floor either before or after the accident. Rather, he explained that the operator could feel the machine leaving water and that he "didn't feel it at all."

         In reply, [2] the plaintiff offered a more expansive excerpt from Mr. Thomas's deposition, and suggested that his testimony and Mr. Francis's affidavit were speculative with regard to whether liquid was present on the floor. She contends that the speculation offered by HHS was inadequate to overcome her own ...

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