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Perrin v. Ochsner Baptist Medical Center, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

August 7, 2019


          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2014-05457, DIVISION "B-1" Honorable Rachael Johnson Judge


          Joseph J. Lowenthal, Jr. Madeleine Fischer JONES WALKER, L.L.P. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE

          Court composed of Judge Daniel L. Dysart, Judge Rosemary Ledet, Judge Tiffany G. Chase

          Tiffany G. Chase, Judge

         In this slip and fall negligence action, Christine Perrin (hereinafter "Ms. Perrin"), seeks review of the trial court's January 24, 2018 judgment granting the motion for summary judgment filed by Ochsner Baptist Medical Center, LLC (hereinafter "Ochsner"). After consideration of the record before this Court, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court for the following reasons.


         The material facts of this case are not in dispute. On June 18, 2013, Ms. Perrin arrived at Ochsner Baptist hospital for a scheduled appointment. Entering the second floor of the Clara building from the parking garage, she encountered a scene as depicted by her own photograph and diagram submitted into evidence.[1]The carpeted waiting area was wet, having been cleaned earlier in the day. A blower fan sat in the middle of the carpeted area, and two yellow caution signs were positioned on the tile walkway near the two entrances. Ms. Perrin walked across the carpeted area towards the registration desk. In her deposition testimony she stated that, at the time of her crossing, she did not see any caution signs. She did notice the blower and thought the carpet might have been wet. As she stepped off the carpeted area onto the tiled walkway, she slipped, fell, and allegedly sustained injuries. A "code sprint" was called to alert hospital staff that a visitor had fallen. Arriving at the scene were Chaplain Sherryl Billot, Nurse Melissa Kent (hereinafter "Nurse Kent"), and Security Officer Andre Russo (hereinafter "Officer Russo"). Ms. Perrin was eventually transported to the emergency room. Officer Russo conducted an interview with Ms. Perrin, and all of the responding Ochsner employees completed incident reports.

         Ms. Perrin filed suit, alleging Ochsner was negligent and strictly liable for the injuries she sustained. Ochsner filed for summary judgment arguing Ms. Perrin could not prove the element of duty as the wet carpet, marked with caution signs and a blower, was open and obvious and did not present an unreasonable risk of harm. Ms. Perrin opposed alleging the existence of numerous issues of material fact, which precluded summary judgment. A hearing was held on December 1, 2017. Ruling from the bench, the trial court granted Ochsner's motion for summary judgment based on the open and obvious doctrine as the caution signs gave reasonable notice that a potential risk awaited if someone were to traverse the area.[2] The judgment was reduced to writing on January 24, 2018.

         Ms. Perrin filed a motion for new trial which was heard on September 12, 2018. The trial court denied the motion determining that, upon reviewing the record and photographs, there was no additional information provided that would suggest the original judgment was contrary to the law. This appeal followed.


         Appellate courts review the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment de novo, using the same criteria that govern a trial court's determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. Maddox v. Howard Hughes Corp., 2019-0135, p. 4 (La.App. 4 Cir. 4/17/19), 268 So.3d 333, 337 (collecting cases). Louisiana C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3) provides "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." In Maddox, this Court observed:

A genuine issue is one as to which reasonable persons could disagree; if reasonable persons could reach only one conclusion, there is no need for trial on that issue, and summary judgment is appropriate. Smith v. Our Lady of the Lake Hosp., Inc., 93-2512, p. 27 (La. 7/5/94), 639 So.2d 730, 751. "A fact is material when its existence or nonexistence may be essential to the plaintiffs [sic] cause of action under the applicable theory of recovery; a fact is material if it potentially insures or precludes recovery, affects a litigant's ultimate success, or determines the outcome of the legal dispute." Chapital v. Harry Kelleher & Co., Inc., 13-1606, p. 5 (La.App. 4 Cir. 6/4/14), 144 So.3d 75, 81. Whether a fact is material is a determination that must be made based on the applicable substantive law. Roadrunner Transp. Sys. v. Brown, 17-0040, p. 7 (La.App. 4 Cir. 5/10/17), 219 So.3d 1265, 1270 (citing Smith, supra).

Maddox, 2019-0135, p. 5, 268 So.3d at 337. Thus, our inquiry focuses on whether reasonable minds would inevitably conclude that Ochsner is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the facts before this Court. See Chatelain v. Fluor Daniel Const. Co., 2014-1312, p. 3 (La.App. 4 Cir. 11/10/15), 179 So.3d 791, 793.

         Absent any material factual issue, summary judgment is appropriate when a condition is open and obvious such that it does not present an unreasonable risk of harm. See Jones v. Stewart, 2016-0329, p. 14 (La.App. 4 Cir. 10/5/16), 203 So.3d 384, 393 (observing that "in a trio of cases, [the Louisiana Supreme Court has] held that, absent any material factual issue, the summary judgment procedure can be used to determine whether a defect is open and obvious and thus does not present an unreasonable risk of harm") (citing Bufkin v. Felipe's Louisiana, LLC, 2014-0288 (La. 10/15/14), 171 So.3d 851; Rodriguez v. Dolgencorp, LLC, 2014-1725 (La. 11/14/14), 152 So.3d 871; Allen v. Lockwood, 2014-1724 (La. 2/13/15), 156 So.3d 650).

         Ochsner must first meet its burden to produce evidence pointing out the lack of factual support for an essential element of Ms. Perrin's case, demonstrating that because the complained-of condition was obvious and apparent and was reasonably safe for guests exercising ordinary care and prudence, it had no duty to extend additional warnings to its guests. See Bufkin, 2014-0288, p. 12, 171 So.3d at 859; La. C.C.P. art. 966(D)(1). The burden would then shift ...

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