I’m a sucker for a good summary-judgment opinion, and the Fourth Circuit delivered last week with Sedar v. Reston Town Center Property, LLC. Sedar transparently applies the summary-judgment to a straightforward slip-and-fall fact pattern, offering real guidance to the bench and bar.
First, the facts: Sedar was walking out of a parking garage with two colleagues when she fell down a flight of stairs. She was knocked unconscious and broke her elbow. Sedar does not remember the fall, and neither of her friends saw exactly what happened–though they could describe Sedar’s general path of travel. Though their testimony differed, both colleagues placed her over loose bricks at the top of the stairs. Other friends soon arrived and took photographs and video. When Sedar came to, she noticed a scuff mark on the top of her shoe. She later hired a structural engineer. He determined that evidence showed unstable bricks and caulk, which constituted a hazard and violated the building and maintenance codes. The engineer concluded that this most likely caused Sedar to fall.
Sedar sued. After discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. They also asked the district court to exclude Sedar’s expert.
The district court granted summary judgment, holding that Sedar had produced no evidence that the defendants had actual or constructive notice of the defect. It also noted that Virginia law does not impose liability to fix sidewalk irregularities that are less than an inch or two in size. Finally, the district court concluded that even if Sedar had presented enough evidence of negligence, she’d produced no evidence that the defects caused her fall.
As it turned out, the district court was wrong on each point.