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Case of Restaurant Trip-and-Fall Over High Chair Leg Gets Second Shot at Trial

Restaurants are a common site of trips, slips and falls, especially during the busy holiday season. The National Restaurant Association recommends all restaurants regularly monitor the coefficient of friction at various surfaces, replace worn or fraying carpets or mats, repair uneven surfaces on walkways, use non-slip matting in the kitchens or other areas that tend to be wet, wax carefully, keep pathways clear and promptly clean up reported or discovered spills. All of these practices will help reduce Florida slip-and-fall injuries. 

Recently, the Mississippi Supreme Court considered a restaurant trip-and-fall case involving an elderly customer and an allegedly errant high chair, one leg protruding into the customer’s pathway, resulting in a fall that caused serious injuries to his face and shoulder.

According to court records, the incident occurred five years ago at a fast-food restaurant in Mississippi while 76-year-old plaintiff was on a road trip with his family, returning to their home in Missouri. After plaintiff received his order, set his food down at a table and walked to the condiment station. He picked up several condiments, but then thought he heard one of the workers speaking to him. He turned to face the counter, but then discovered the employee was actually talking to a different customer. He turned to walk back to his table and as he did so, his left foot struck the leg of a high chair that was protruding into the aisle. Soon after, he reportedly overheard one of the employees ask a co-worker what the highchair had been doing in that location. A supervisor instructed someone to move it. 

Two years later, plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against several defendants, including the restaurant chain, the owner of the franchise and the manager.

Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no genuine issue of material fact showing the highchair was a dangerous condition or that any alleged danger wasn’t obvious or that defendants had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition.

One witness to the fall, a university dean and frequent patron of the restaurant, said she wasn’t surprised that plaintiff tripped because the station where the highchairs are kept were obscured from view by a half wall and further the legs of the high chairs stick out farther than the tops. That meant the bottom juts out from the wall while the top of the chair (which would make the hazard obvious) can’t be seen. She noted she had seen other customers bump into the highchairs and even stumble at the same location as plaintiff. Further, witness said she had complained to the store several times about this danger before plaintiff fell. The shift manager at the store didn’t dispute this testimony, but did say she believed the chairs were being stored properly.

Defendants reportedly indicated video of the incident had been inadvertently erased.

The trial court granted defense motion for summary judgment, finding the presence of a high chair would be normal in a restaurant of this nature and is a condition a patron could expect to encounter, and further it wasn’t hidden.

However, the state supreme court reversed and remanded for trial. The court’s opinion was that plaintiff had raised several issues of triable fact, including:

  • Did defendants have actual or constructive knowledge of the alleged dangerous condition and fail to address it or warn consumers?
  • Whether high chairs are a normal condition of restaurants that invitees could expect to encounter (state supreme court ruled judge erroneously supplanted his opinion for the facts in this case, which is the exclusive role of the jury).
  • Spoliation of the video evidence. If evidence reveals the video was destroyed intentionally or negligently, plaintiff may be entitled to a spoliation instruction to the jury, which could mean the jury would be instructed to assume that whatever was on the video would have been favorable to plaintiff.

If you are injured in a restaurant slip-and-fall, our dedicated injury attorneys can help.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Renner v. Retzer Resources, Inc., Dec. 7, 2017, Mississippi Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit Gets a Second Shot, Nov. 23, 2017, Orlando Slip-and-Fall Injury Lawyer Blog

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