May 31 2022

Doug Price, Amanda Prosek and Stephen Ryan Obtain Summary Judgment in Rhode Island Premises Liability Case

Morrison Mahoney Partners Douglas Price and Amanda Prosek, together with Associate Stephen Ryan, obtained summary judgment in Providence County Superior Court in a Rhode Island premises liability case, following extensive briefing and oral argument—and some on-point caselaw research.

Morrison Mahoney represented a butcher shop and its owner in relation to a claim made by a delivery man. The plaintiff slipped and fell on snow and ice in front of our client’s business. As a result of the fall, he alleged significant orthopedic injuries, including a rotator cuff tear that required surgical repair.

We filed a motion for summary judgment at the onset of the case, arguing that the sidewalk was the property of the City of Bristol and, therefore, our client had no duty to maintain it. We also argued that, under our client’s lease with the building’s owner, the tenant was not responsible for any exterior maintenance of the building or sidewalk.

These arguments were accepted by the court, but the plaintiff opposed the motion. He contended that our client’s practice of clearing snow and ice from the sidewalk directly in front of the butcher shop’s entrance meant that our client had assumed a duty to the plaintiff. However, based on the plaintiff’s deposition testimony, we argued that he had fallen in an entirely different area than where our client would typically clean, meaning that the client had not assumed a duty for the area of his fall. Nevertheless, our original motion was denied; the judge ruled that a question of fact existed on this issue.

Subsequently, a new Rhode Island Supreme Court decision came down that upheld a grant of summary judgment in a case with nearly identical facts. We renewed our summary judgment motion based on that appellate decision. We were able to persuade the Superior Court judge that the Supreme Court case was indistinguishable from ours; also, that it established binding new precedent that mandated that summary judgment be granted in favor of our client. We were also able to show that the law of the case doctrine did not apply here, as there had been a change in the law which would make it fundamentally unfair to perpetuate the prior, now erroneous, ruling.

The Superior Court judge granted our renewed motion, ruling that, as a matter of law, our client owed no duty to the injured plaintiff.

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