Basin Park Hotel, Inc, Defendant-Appellee.
Patricia Smith and her husband checked into the Basin Park Hotel in Eureka Spring, Arkansas to attend a wedding.
On the third day of their stay, Smith went down to the hotel lobby using the stairs.
At the last flight of the steps, she slid and fell and sustained injuries as a result;
She sued the hotel for negligence for its failure to keep the staircase in a safe condition.
Smith indicated in her deposition that she did not misstep, but surmised that the accident could have been caused by any of the general condition of the staircase, such as poor lighting, slickness of the carpet, and narrowness of the staircase, among others.
An expert witness testified that some features of the staircase violated the building code, such as the difference in the height of the steps, the existence of only one handrail, below standard lighting, and the confusing pattern of the carpet.
He further testified that the difference in the height between the top and second steps was particularly dangerous because people usually perceived that steps are of uniform height.
Basin Park Hotel filed for summary judgment on the grounds that Smith failed to show that her injuries were caused proximately by the violation of the hotel of the safety rules of the building code
Smith executed an affidavit stating that she was confused during her deposition, but that later on realized that she had a misstep in the second step of the stairs.
The judge granted the motion for summary judgment because Smith failed to state the proximate cause of her accident and the jury should not second-guess it.
Did the district judge err in granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because of the alleged failure of Smith to cite the proximate cause of her accident?
The Court reversed the decision of the trial judge.
The hotel owed an ordinary duty of care to Smith to keep and maintain the premises in a safe condition because under Arkansas law, Smith was an invitee of the hotel.
A premises possessor, however, is not liable for injuries suffered by an invitee if the danger within the premises is obvious or known to the invitee.
The difference between the heights of the steps may not be known or obvious to Smith causing her to misstep, which means the hotel may still be liable.
Although Smith’s execution of an affidavit that altered her previous deposition after the testimony of an expert witness was suspicious, it should be up to a jury to determine the truth and validity of such claim.
Sufficient evidence exists to raise an issue of material facts that could prove that any of the safety violation of the building code as to the construction and design of the staircase could be the proximate cause of the accident.
All in all, the body of evidence submitted by Smith would not require the jury to speculate beyond what is permissible.