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Toussaint v. Baton Rouge General Medical Center

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

June 4, 2018

TORSOR TOUSSAINT
v.
BATON ROUGE GENERAL MEDICAL CENTER AND XYZ INSURANCE COMPANY

          Appealed from the 19th Judicial District Court n and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana Trial Court No. C637615 Honorable Wilson Fields, Judge

          GREG A. ROZAS PAUL J. TANNER BATON ROUGE, LA ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF -APPELLEE TORSOR TOUSSAINT

          N. COURTENAY SIMMONS CRAIG J. SABOTTKE BATON ROUGE, LA ATTORNEYS FOR DEFENDANT -APPELLANT BATON ROUGE GENERAL MEDICAL CENTER

          JERALD L. ALBUM SUZANNE M. GANUCHEAU METAIRIE, LA ATTORNEYS FOR DEFENDANT -APPELLEE HOSPITAL HOUSEKEEPING SYSTEMS, LLC

          BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, AND CRAIN, JJ.

          PETTIGREW, J.

         In this case involving a slip and fall in a hospital, the hospital appeals a trial court judgment in favor of the plaintiff. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 19, 2014, Torsor Toussaint accompanied her mother to Baton Rouge General Medical Center's Bluebonnet Campus ("BRGMC") for medical services. Mrs. Toussaint and her mother entered the hospital through the emergency room entrance and proceeded down a hallway towards the admissions desk. At some time prior to their arrival, a spill was discovered on the floor near the admissions desk, and BRGMC's housekeeper, Lakeysha Franklin, was sent to mop the spill. After Ms. Franklin located the spill, set up a "wet floor" sign, and began mopping, Mrs. Toussaint and her mother entered the admissions area from behind Ms. Franklin, walked to their right around the area being mopped by Ms. Franklin, and stopped at the admissions desk. After mopping, Ms. Franklin repositioned the "wet floor" sign within the area she had just mopped and left the area. After checking in at the admissions desk, Mrs. Toussaint and her mother sat down in a waiting area across from the admissions desk. Less than a minute later, Mrs. Toussaint stood back up and began walking back down the hall towards the emergency room entrance, this time passing on the opposite side of the mopped area. After walking past the "wet floor" sign placed by Ms. Franklin, Mrs. Toussaint slipped and fell in what she later described as "an excessive amount of water on the floor, " striking her right knee on the floor and allegedly sustaining injuries.

         Mrs. Toussaint filed a petition for damages for the injuries she sustained in the slip and fall against BRGMC, as well as the contractor that manages BRGMC's housekeeping department, Hospital Housekeeping Services, LLC ("HHS"). After the bench trial in this matter began, Mrs. Toussaint settled her claims against HHS for $2, 500.00, reserving her rights against BRGMC. After the conclusion of the trial, the trial court ruled in favor of Mrs. Toussaint, finding that BRGMC did not do enough to warn the public of the wet floor. The trial court allocated one hundred percent of the fault for Mrs. Toussaint's injuries to BRGMC, and awarded Mrs. Toussaint special damages of $6, 900.40, general damages of $15, 000.00, and deposition costs of $1, 500.00. BRGMC filed a suspensive appeal, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that BRGMC was negligent, in not allocating any comparative fault to Mrs. Toussaint or HHS, and in awarding an excessive amount of general damages for Mrs. Toussaint's injuries.

         DISCUSSION

         Negligence of BRGMC

         The legislature has not specifically addressed the burden of proof applicable in a slip-and-fall claim against a hospital. Consequently, jurisprudence addressing the burden placed on a hospital is not affected by the statute governing merchant liability for slip-and-fall claims found at La. R.S. 9:2800.6. See Terrance v. Baton Rouge Gen. Med. Ctr., 10-0011, pp. 3-4 (La.App. 1 Or. 6/11/10), 39 So.3d 842, 844, writ denied, 10-1624 (La. 10/8/10), 46 So.3d 1271. Because the hospital is not a "merchant, " we must examine the hospital's duty in light of the facts of this case under a negligence theory of liability.

         Under a negligence standard, a hospital owes a duty to its visitors to exercise reasonable care for their safety, commensurate with the particular circumstances involved; but the duty owed is less than that owed by a merchant. Mrs. Toussaint must show that she slipped, fell, and was injured because of a foreign substance on the hospital's premises. The burden then shifts to the hospital to exculpate itself from the presumption of negligence by showing that it acted reasonably to discover and correct the dangerous condition reasonably anticipated in its business activity. The trial court must consider the relationship between the risk of a fall and the reasonableness of the measures taken by the hospital to eliminate the risk. Smith v. Northshore Reg'l Med. Ctr., Inc., 14-0628, pp. 3-4 (La.App. 1 Or. 1/26/15), 170 So.3d 173, 176; Terrance, 10-0011, p. 4-5, 39 So.3d at 844. The determination of whether the measures taken by the hospital to eliminate the risk were reasonable is a question of fact. See Osorio v. Target Corp. of Minnesota, 11-1761, 2012WL3443333, p. 3 (E.D. La. 8/14/12).

         A trial court's findings of fact will not be disturbed on appeal unless the appellate court finds they are clearly wrong or manifestly erroneous. Stobart v. State through Dept. of Transp. & Dev., 617 So.2d 880, 882 (La. 1993). The appellate court may not reverse the trial court even if the appellate court determines it would have weighed the evidence differently if sitting as the trier of fact, as long as the trial court's findings are reasonable in light of the entire record. Id. at 882. Where two permissible views of the evidence exist, the fact finder's choice between them cannot be manifestly erroneous. Id. at 883.

         BRGMC argues on appeal that Mrs. Toussaint did not carry her burden of proving that she slipped and fell in a foreign substance on the floor. Although BRGMC concedes that a small spill was discovered in the admissions area hallway just prior to Mrs. Toussaint's fall, they argue that this does not imply that the entire eighteen-foot-wide hallway was wet. In addition to testimony from Mrs. Toussaint and Ms. Franklin about the condition of the floor on the date of the accident, the trial court also viewed the BRGMC surveillance video of the events at issue in ...


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