MARIA DIAZ v. MANCHESTER MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, AC 37204
Judicial District of Hartford
Negligence; Premises Liability; Whether Defendant had Constructive Notice of Icy Sidewalk and Breached Duty to Keep its Premises Reasonably Safe. On January 18, 2011, the plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell on a sidewalk leading from a Manchester Memorial Hospital parking lot to a hospital entrance. She brought this lawsuit claiming that the hospital was responsible for her injuries in that it failed to protect her from a dangerous and defective condition—an accumulation of ice on the sidewalk. In order to prevail on her negligence claim and recover money damages, the plaintiff had to prove that the defendant owed her a duty, that it failed in that duty, and that that failure resulted in her harm. Where, as in this case, a plaintiff sues a business owner claiming that the defendant breached its duty to keep its premises reasonably safe for the use of business guests, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had either actual or constructive notice of the dangerous and defective condition on the business premises. Here, to prove that the defendant had breached its legal duty to her, the plaintiff had to show that the defendant was actually aware that the sidewalk was icy or that it had constructive notice because the icy condition existed for such a length of time that the defendant should have known about it. The plaintiff chose to have a trial before a judge instead of a jury. After the trial, the judge issued a written decision finding in favor of the defendant. The judge ruled that the plaintiff did not prove that the defendant had breached its duty to keep its property reasonably safe in that she had not shown that the defendant had actual or constructive notice that the sidewalk was icy. The judge noted that the evidence at trial showed that a contractor had cleaned and salted the defendant’s parking lots and sidewalks that morning and that its maintenance and security staff had inspected those areas that morning, afternoon, and early evening. As to the plaintiff’s claim that the defendant had constructive notice of the dangerous condition, the judge noted that it was not known how long the sidewalk had been icy before the plaintiff slipped and fell. This is the plaintiff’s appeal from the judgment in favor of the defendant. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the judge should have found that the hospital had constructive notice of the icy sidewalk because she introduced evidence at trial showing that the icy condition existed for hours before her fall, a sufficient length of time that the defendant’s employees should have discovered it in time to remedy it. The plaintiff also claims that the judge should not have ruled in the defendant’s favor where she successfully proved that the defendant is legally responsible for harm in that her injuries were caused by the defendant’s negligence. The defendant responds that the plaintiff’s constructive notice claim is unsupported by the evidence and that, even if the judge was wrong in finding no constructive notice here, there are other reasons that the plaintiff cannot prevail in this lawsuit. First, the defendant argues that the “ongoing storm doctrine” excused it of any duty it had to keep the sidewalk cleared and safe at the time the plaintiff fell. Courts have held that property owners can wait until the end of a storm before removing ice and snow, and the defendant claims that there was an ongoing storm when the plaintiff slipped and fell. Second, the defendant argues that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by her own negligence, in that she chose to use the sidewalk—rather than a safer available alternative route—even though she noticed before she stepped on the sidewalk that it was icy.