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Why a Lancaster County Judge Threw Out this Trip and Fall Case

Posted on Sunday, March 24th, 2013 at 8:18 pm    

Watch your step. That was the message a Lancaster County judge underscored recently when he threw out a case filed by Carolyn Harbison against JPS Getty, the owner of the Millersville Mini Mart. He cited the legal requirement that people have a duty to look where they are walking and “to see what [is] obvious.” When it comes to trip and fall accidents, this case illustrates just how true the old saying is, “the devil is in the details.”

In this case, Plaintiff Carol Harbison was injured in a fall while visiting the Mini Mart in Millersville, PA. She had been to the store on numerous prior occasions. However, on the day of this incident, Ms. Harbison parked on the side of the store and walked up two steps to reach the concrete apron surrounding the store. Ms. Harbison walked along the apron to the front of the Mini Mart. When she was about to enter the store, she noticed a woman with a walker exiting and attempted to hold the door open. Without looking down, Ms. Harbison stepped backward as she was opening the door and fell on to the pavement before reaching the first step. Ms. Harbison had incorrectly assumed that there were two steps down off of the apron before the pavement. However, the second step at the side of the store did not continue around to the front.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Harbison argued that the steps to the store constituted a dangerous or hazardous condition which the defendant knew or should have known was dangerous and that the defendant had a duty to protect patrons such as herself from foreseeable harm caused by the dangerous condition.

In throwing out the case, the court noted that “A possessor of land [in this case JPS Getty] is not liable to his invitee [Ms. Harbison] for a condition on the land that is known or obvious to them, unless the possessor should anticipate harm despite such knowledge or obviousness….A danger is deemed obvious when the condition and risk are apparent and would be recognized by a reasonable person in the position of the invitee, exercising normal perception, intelligence and judgment.”

The court continued noting that the danger caused by the uneven steps should have been known or obvious to Ms. Harbison. Furthermore, Ms. Harbison admitted that she was not looking down when she stepped backward. “Plaintiff [Ms. Harbison] had a duty to look where she was walking and to see what was obvious,” the judge added.

Fall cases are always challenging in Pennsylvania, so if you are injured in a fall you should immediately consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. A slight change in the details in this case could have easily changed the outcome.  For example, suppose this accident happened when it was dark and the danger caused by the uneven step wasn’t readily visible to Mrs. Harbison.  In such a situation, the Judge likely would have allowed the case to proceed to trial. If you are injured in a fall, call me for a free consultation at 717-392-6362.