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Minix v. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

May 31, 2019

STEVEN MINIX
v.
PILOT TRAVEL CENTERS, LLC AND ABC INSURANCE COMPANY

          Appealed from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana Docket Number C609540 Honorable R. Michael Caldwell, Judge Presiding

          Sean D. Fagan, Locke Meredith, Collins Meredith, Mitchell Meredith Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants, Connie Minix, Christopher Minix, and James Minix as party plaintiffs for the deceased Steven Minix.

          Gracella Simmons Collin J. LeBlanc Counsel for Defendant/Appellee, Pilot Travel Centers, LLC

          Dan Boudreaux Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Intervenor, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., WELCH, AND HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.

          WHIPPLE, C.J.

         This is an appeal from a judgment of the Nineteenth Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish, granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissing the plaintiffs' suit with prejudice. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Steven Minix, a commercial truck driver, was injured on March 30, 2011, at the Pilot Travel Center in Rayville, Louisiana, when he fell after encountering a pothole in a paved area of the Pilot facility adjacent to the fueling island where he had parked his rig. Upon pulling into a fueling island at the Pilot facility, Minix exited his truck and began walking around the tractor and trailer, engaging the fuel pumps to fill both the driver's side and passenger side fuel tanks of his rig. After engaging both pumps, Minix proceeded around the front of the rig from the passenger side, and as he approached the driver's side of the truck in front of the rig, his right leg "slipped" in a pothole, located about eighteen to twenty-four inches off the front bumper. According to Minix, the toe of his shoe "hung up on the edge of the hole," and he stumbled, landing on both knees and hurting his back.

         Thereafter, Minix filed suit against Pilot Travel Centers, LLC ("Pilot") for the injuries he sustained, averring that the hole had been present for an extended period of time as evidenced by its eroded edges and that the area surrounding the hole was coated with a slippery substance, which appeared to be fuel or a similar substance.[1] Thus, Minix contended that the hole was a defect that created an unreasonable risk of harm and that Pilot knew or should have known of the defect. Accordingly, he sought damages for his personal injuries. Minix later died, and Connie Minix, Christopher Minix, and James Minix (hereinafter collectively referred to as "plaintiffs") were apparently substituted as parties plaintiff.[2]

         After answering the petition, Pilot filed a motion for summary judgment, averring that the alleged defect was "obvious to all" and that plaintiffs would be unable to meet their burden of proof at trial to demonstrate the existence of an unreasonably dangerous condition on the Pilot premises. Pilot further asserted that plaintiffs lacked the ability to demonstrate that Pilot had knowledge of the defective condition. Thus, Pilot contended that it was entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law, dismissing plaintiffs' claims against it.[3]

         Following a hearing on the motion, the trial court granted the motion and dismissed plaintiffs claims against Pilot with prejudice. From this judgment, plaintiffs appeal.

         LEGAL PRECEPTS

         A motion for summary judgment is a procedural device used to avoid a full-scale trial when there is no genuine issue of material fact. Jones v. Anderson, 2016-1361 (La.App. 1st Cir. 6/29/17), 224 So.3d 413, 417. After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. LSA-C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3). The only documents that may be filed in support of or in opposition to the motion are ...


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