Published on:

Jury Instruction Error in Premises Liability Case Results in Reversal of Plaintiff’s Verdict

Earlier this month, one state’s supreme court issued an opinion in a premises liability case reversing what was a favorable verdict to the plaintiff based on errors the trial judge made in instructing the jury. In the case, Alcala v. Marriott International, the court determined that there was no basis for several of the court’s instructions to the jury, and since the jury returned a general verdict, not specifying under which theory the defendant was negligent, a new trial was required.

Brick PathThe Facts of the Case

Alcala was staying at a Marriott hotel when she slipped and fell on some ice that had accumulated outside one of the hotel’s main entrances. At trial, an employee on duty at the time of the accident testified that she would shovel the snow and then apply a deicer to melt any residual ice underneath the accumulated snow. She testified that no one told her too much deicer could prevent the substance from working.

Experts also testified for each side. Alcala’s expert focused on how slippery the sidewalk was when it was covered in ice, asserting that the industry standard was to apply a deicing agent when necessary. Marriott’s expert, however, focused on the concrete itself, explaining that the industry standard is to “broom finish” the concrete to give it traction, but there was no industry standard for when to apply a deicing agent.

At the conclusion of the testimony, the judge instructed the jury that it was to consider four potential ways that Marriott was negligent:

  • Improper training of employees;
  • Inadequate maintenance of the premises;
  • Failing to inspect the walkway; and
  • Failing to provide a slip-resistant walkway.

The jury was instructed that if it found Marriott was negligent under any one of the four theories, a plaintiff’s verdict was appropriate. The jury returned a general verdict, not specifying under which theory it found Marriott negligent, and awarded the plaintiff $1.2 million in damages. Marriott appealed.

On appeal, the court ordered a new trial. The court explained that two of the four provided theories of negligence were not adequately proven by Alcala. First, Alcala did not submit any evidence on what the standard across the industry was regarding training employees to handle icy walkways. Second, since there was conflicting testimony as to what the standard of care was regarding the materials used for the walkway, it was wrong of the court to take Alcala’s expert’s testimony as true over Marriott’s. Since the jury did not specify on which theory it based its verdict, a new trial was required.

Have You Been Injured in a Georgia Slip-and-Fall?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Georgia slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as you can see, unanticipated issues can arise in these cases, making a dedicated advocate necessary. The skilled personal injury attorneys at Miller Legal Services have ample experience in all kinds of slip-and-fall cases and want to speak with you about your case. Call 770-284-3727 today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

The Element of Foreseeability in Georgia Personal Injury Cases, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, June 3, 2016.

Splitting Up Fault in Georgia Personal Injury Cases, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, May 23, 2016.