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Blunt v. Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 22, 2017

JEANA ENNIS BLUNT and CHARLES BLUNT, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL COMPANY, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          DuBois, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is a negligence case. Plaintiff Jeana Blunt avers that she suffered injuries when she slipped and fell on a marble staircase at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She alleges that her fall was caused by the negligence of defendant Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC (“Ritz Carlton”). Charles Blunt, Jeana Blunt's husband, asserts a derivative loss of consortium claim. Presently before the Court is Ritz Carlton's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         The Court concludes that there is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that a transitory dangerous condition-liquid on the steps-caused plaintiff's accident. The Court also concludes that there is evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that Ritz Carlton had notice of the alleged non-transitory dangerous condition-slippery and worn steps- that plaintiff claims was the cause of her accident. Therefore, defendant's Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The relevant facts as set forth in the evidence submitted by the parties are as follows. Around 11:00 A.M. on November 1, 2013, plaintiff Jeana Blunt (“plaintiff”) arrived at the Ritz- Carlton Hotel (the “Hotel”) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend a symposium. Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Resp.”), Ex. 2, Deposition of Jeana Blunt (“Blunt Dep.”) 91:3-21. It was raining that morning. Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 1, Declaration of Jeana Blunt (“Blunt Decl.”) ¶ 2.

         Plaintiff proceeded to the symposium, which required her to descend a staircase (“the staircase”). Blunt Decl. ¶ 6. The staircase consists of 20 marble steps, and there is a handrail on the right side of the staircase as one descends. Blunt Dep. 102:2-5; 106:9-107:5. Plaintiff held the handrail as she descended the steps. Id. Each step of the staircase has three strips containing “frictional material.” Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”), Ex. D, Guest Accident Report at 5; Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 3, Declaration of Daniel Banks, P.E. (“Banks Decl.”), Ex. A, at 2. Plaintiff testified that she “[didn't] have a choice” but to step on the strips while descending the stairs, and that she tried to step on the strips. Blunt Dep. 102:9-18; 105:23-106:3. Plaintiff further testified that she did not think that her feet were ever positioned so that her feet “were not in contact with the strips” while she descended the staircase. Id. at 104:18-109:22. Plaintiff's expert, Daniel Banks, [1] reported that the friction strips were “worn down such that when [he] placed [his] hand over the strips, they render little or no frictional material to these stairs, ” and that the frictional material was “worn flush or below the surface.” Banks Decl., Ex. B, at 1-2. These statements were based on Mr. Banks' inspection of the staircase on December 18, 2013, approximately six weeks after plaintiff's accident. Banks Decl., Ex. A, at 1.

         Plaintiff descended approximately thirteen steps without issue. Blunt Dep. 104:4-6. As plaintiff descended, she looked at each step, and she does not recall seeing any puddles or condensation on the staircase. Blunt Dep. at 109:1-110:20. However, plaintiff was “very concerned” about slipping on the staircase because “they are very oddly-shaped steps.” Id. On the seventh or eighth step from the bottom of the staircase, plaintiff's left foot “slipped out.” Id. at 110:21-111:22. Plaintiff stated in her declaration that when her foot slipped, she “could tell that the step was slippery.” Blunt Decl. ¶ 10. When she slipped, plaintiff was holding the handrail with her right hand. Blunt Dep. at 111:23-112:1. She attempted to grab the rail with her left hand as she fell, which caused her to twist her body, “smack [her] face on the railing, ” and go down the remaining steps on her back and “head first.” Id. at 112:2-16.

         Defendant has operated the Hotel since 1999, and the “grip strips” on the staircase have not been replaced or repaired since that year. Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 6, Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s First Req. for Admissions (“Def's Resp. to Adm.”), ¶¶ 23-24. Before this incident, defendant had notice that three other individuals fell on the staircase in 2007, 2008, and 2011. Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 8-10.

         III. DISCUSSION

         a. Applicable Law

         The Court will grant summary judgment if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A fact is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The Court's role at the summary judgment stage “is not . . . to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether . . . there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. at 249. In making this determination, “the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). However, the party opposing summary judgment must identify evidence that supports each element on which it has the burden of proof. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

         To establish negligence under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) the defendant owed “a duty or obligation recognized by law, requiring the actor to conform to a certain standard of conduct for the protection of others against unreasonable risks, ” (2) the defendant failed to conform to that standard, (3) “a causal connection between the conduct and the resulting injury, ” and (4) ...


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