Butts v. Weisz

410 Fed. Appx. 470

 

RULE:

Liability attaches if the possessor of land should expect that the licensees will not discover or realize the danger and the licensees do not know or have reason to know of the condition and the risk involved.

FACTS:

During a visit, appellant’s husband died from blunt head trauma after falling down the basement stairwell in the home of appellees. Appellant, the executrix of her husband’s estate, filed suit against the appelles pursuant to Pennsylvania's Wrongful Death Act, the Survival Act, and under the common law theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress. Appellant retained an expert who filed a report and thereafter testified at his deposition opining that dim lighting conditions and a dangerous single step caused appellant’s husband to fall. Appellees moved to preclude consideration of that testimony, arguing that it was speculative and lacked a reasonable basis as required by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. The District Court agreed. It permitted the expert to opine "regarding a normal person's gait, . . . that a single step is dangerous, that a person walking might trip over a dangerous single step, and that such a trip could lead to a fall." The Court precluded the expert's opinion as to causation. Subsequently, appellees filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of causation, arguing that appellant had failed to present any evidence that the lighting conditions or single step caused appellant’s husband to fall. The District Court agreed on this issue also, finding that appellant’s husband "could have fallen for reasons other than" the negligence of the apellees. The Court granted the motion of appellees for summary judgment on causation and dismissed the case because that issue was dispositive, and appellant appealed.

ISSUE:

Was there a genuine issue of material fact as to causation if appellant failed to present any evidence of the cause of her husband’s fall other than the precluded testimony of her expert?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The court affirmed the judgment of the District Court. There was no genuine issue of material fact as to causation because appellant failed to present any evidence of the cause of her husband’s fall other than the precluded testimony of her expert. It is not necessary that plaintiff prove with mathematical exactness that the accident could only have been caused in one manner to the exclusion of all other possibilities, but he must eliminate those other causes, if any, as were fairly suggested by the evidence. The inference that appellant’s husband fell because there were dim lighting conditions and an allegedly dangerous single step was not an appropriate inference that the jury could draw or should have been given the opportunity to draw. Even if it were an appropriate inference, appellant failed to establish that appellees breached a duty they owed to appellant’s husband regarding the single step. They did not breach any duty because appellant’s husband had successfully navigated that step numerous times in the hours preceding his fall.

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