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Laffitte v. D&J Commercial Properties, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

August 14, 2019

BETTY LAFFITTE Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
D&J COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES, LLC & EMC PROPERTY & CASUALTY COMPANY Defendants-Appellees

          Appealed from the Second Judicial District Court for the Parish of Claiborne, Louisiana Trial Court No. 41, 127 Honorable Jenifer Ward Clason, Judge.

          NICHOLSON LAW FIRM, LLC By: Jeff Nicholson Counsel for Appellant

          ROZAS LAW FIRM, LLC By: Gregg A. Rozas Paul J. Tanner LUNN IRION LAW FIRM LLC By: James A. Mijalis W. Orie Hunter, III Counsel for Appellees

          Before MOORE, PITMAN, and THOMPSON, JJ.

          MOORE, J.

         Betty Laffitte appeals a summary judgment that dismissed her tort claim arising from a trip-and-fall in a parking lot. For the reasons expressed, we affirm.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On a Friday morning in June 2016, Ms. Laffitte went to the Bill's Dollar Store in Homer, La., riding as a passenger in her sister Debra Plunkett's Dodge Charger. They parked in the handicap space that was closest to the entrance of the store. This space pointed at a 45-degree angle to a grassy median or "island" that was bordered on three sides by a 5-inch standard curb and on the fourth side by a concrete ramp running some 21 inches out into the parking lot. Ms. Laffitte testified that she had been to Bill's about 20 times, but had never used this particular space before.

         Ms. Laffitte exited the Charger, crossed the access aisle (the striped space adjacent to every handicap parking space), and, after she got past the island, turned left to walk directly into the front door of Bill's. However, she did not notice that the ramp crossed at that spot. She stumbled on it, falling down and breaking her hip.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ms. Laffitte filed this suit against D&J Commercial Properties LLC, the owner of the shopping center, and EMC Property & Casualty, its insurer (collectively, "D&J"). She alleged that the curb contained a defective condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm, and that D&J knew or should have known about this condition but failed to correct it or warn about it.

         D&J moved for summary judgment contending that Ms. Laffitte could not prove either defect or knowledge, elements required by La. C.C. art. 2317.1. In support, it attached portions of Ms. Laffitte's deposition. In these, Ms. Laffitte disclosed that she suffered from diabetes, has lost all her right toes and three of her left toes, has no sensation at all in her feet, wears special diabetic shoes, and is authorized to use handicap parking. She testified that when she got out of the Charger, she "walked right by there, thinking * * * it was level. And this right here was not level. It had that incline." She admitted there was nothing to prevent her from seeing the ramp, and she was unaware whether anybody else had ever stumbled on it, but, "It wasn't painted nothing showing no danger [sic] right there, the height there."

         D&J also attached portions of Ms. Plunkett's deposition, which mostly confirmed her sister's testimony. She asserted that Ms. Laffitte stumbled on a slope "that's not marked in any way."

         Finally, D&J attached portions of the deposition of Larry D. Nokes Jr., who had been a tenant of the shopping center since 2005 and its owner (through D&J, his LLC) since 2015. He testified that around 2006, the prior owner had overlaid the parking lot and installed the islands, for aesthetic purposes; the ramp at the end of each island was so tractors could get onto the raised portion and mow the grass. Further, ...


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