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Couvillion v. Riverside Properties, L.L.C.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

June 20, 2018

EARLENE COUVILLION
v.
RIVERSIDE PROPERTIES, L.L.C., AND XYZ INSURANCE COMPANY

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2016-02352, DIVISION "DIV. J-5" HONORABLE CHERRELL S. TAPLIN, PRO TEMPORE

          DARLEEN M. JACOBS AL A SARRAT RENE D. LOVELACE JACOBS, SARRAT, LOVELACE & HARRIS COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT

          PHILIP G. WATSON DUPLASS ZWAIN BOURGEOIOS PFISTER WEINSTOCK & BOGART COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE

          Court composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay III, Judge Daniel L. Dysart, Judge Dale Atkins

          JAMES F. MCKAY III, CHIEF JUDGE

         In this action based on negligence, involving a fall on a stairway, the plaintiff, Earline Couvillion, appeals the district court's granting of a summary judgment in favor of the defendants, Riverside Properties, L.L.C. and XYZ Insurance Company.[1] For the reasons that follow, we reverse the district court's judgment and remand the matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 11, 2015, at approximately 12:30 p.m., Ms. Couvillion was exiting the stairs of a building owned by Riverside Properties and located at 5200 Coffee Drive, when she fell. The stairs were cement, frayed on their edges and lacked a handrail. As a result of her fall, Ms. Couvillion alleges that she sustained the following injuries and damages: internal derangement, disruption and subligmentous herniation of the L3-L4 intervertebral discs; internal disruption and herniation of the L2-L3 intervertebral discs; straightening of the lumbar lordosis; acute lumbosacral strain; laceration, contusion and strain of the left knee; and damage to the L2-L3, L4 and L5 nerve roots.

         Ms. Couvillion filed a lawsuit against Riverside Properties and XYZ Insurance Company on March 7, 2016, alleging that the sole and proximate cause of her accident was the negligence of Riverside Properties and/or its agents in the following respects: failing to properly maintain their stairways and keep them safe for pedestrian traffic; failing to install handrails on the stairways; failing to provide for the safety of pedestrian traffic; and other acts of negligence to be shown at the trial of this matter.

         On March 13, 2017, Riverside Properties filed a motion for summary judgment, accompanied by a memorandum in support of motion for summary judgment. The matter came before the district court for hearing on August 11, 2017. Following arguments by the parties, the court took the matter under advisement, and on September 18, 2017 it issued a judgment granting summary judgment on behalf of Riverside Properties. It is from this judgment that Ms. Couvillion now appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         Appellate courts review a grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo using the same criteria district courts consider when determining if summary judgment is proper. Kennedy v. Sheriff of East Baton Rouge, 2005-1418, p. 25 (La. 7/10/06), 935 So.2d 669, 686.

         Summary judgment procedure is favored in Louisiana and is designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of a case. La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(2). "After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3). The burden of proof remains with the mover, but if the mover does not bear the burden of proof at trial on the issues before the court in the motion for summary judgment, the mover is not required to "negate all essential elements of the adverse party's claim, action, or defense." La. C.C.P. art. 966(D)(1). The burden is on the adverse party to produce factual support sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact or that the mover is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

         In the instant case, Ms. Couvillion submits that there are a number of material factual issues. These include: 1) the stairs were worn; 2) the stairs were required to have handrails; 3) a handrail would have helped the plaintiff; 4) Riverside should have known of the defects in the steps and the lack of a handrail; 5) the damages could have been prevented if Riverside had exercised reasonable care by properly maintaining the steps and by installing a handrail; and 6) Riverside failed to exercise reasonable care. Ms. Couvillion also submitted the affidavit and report of Dr. Fereydoun Aghazadeh, a professional ...


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