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Summary judgment reversed in trip-and-fall case

A woman who tripped and broke her elbow in a Food Lion store gets another shot at a trial thanks to a ruling today from the Supreme Court of Virginia, which again serves notice that summary judgment is rarely appropriate in personal injury cases.

The plaintiff was using an ATM machine that was protected from damage by two metal bars on either side, about five inches off the floor.  The bars were so long that ATM customers had to stand between them in order to use the bank machine.

Unfortunately for the plaintiff, her three-year-old grandson suddenly darted away from her while she tried to attend to her bank business.  She tripped over one of the bars as she tried to retrieve the grandson.

Looking at photographs and reviewing interrogatory answers, the trial court ruled the plaintiff failed to see an open and obvious hazard.

Not so fast, says the Supreme Court today in an opinion by Lawrence L. Koontz Jr.  The case is remanded to allow a jury to consider if the plaintiff had been “reasonably distracted” so as to excuse her failure to see the bar.

By Peter Vieth

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