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Redmond v. Galli

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

July 21, 2015

JOHN REDMOND, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSTANCE GALLI, Defendant.

ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Hon. Roland Cole, Justice

Defendant Constance Galli moves for summary judgment under M.R. Civ. P. 56, claiming that she is entitled to a judgment of a matter of law as to Plaintiff John Redmond's premises liability negligence claim. The Court held a hearing on this matter on March 5, 2015.

The Plaintiff fell while carrying a piece of slate up the Defendant's basement stairs. The issues in this case are whether the stairs were a dangerous condition on the property, whether the Defendant knew or should have known about the dangerous condition, and whether the dangerous condition was the proximate cause of the Plaintiff's injuries.

BACKGROUND

1. The Parties

On February 4, 2012, the Plaintiff John Redmond and his wife went to the Defendant Constance Galli's house for a visit. PASMF ¶ 56. During the visit, the Defendant asked the Plaintiff to help her carry a piece of slate upstairs from her basement. PASMF ¶ 58. They went into the basement together. The Plaintiff had never before entered the Defendant's basement. POSMF ¶ 61.

2. The Incident

When the Plaintiff descended the basement stairs, he noted that the stairs were old, and he felt them "squish" under his weight. POSMF ¶ 14. Although some discrepancy exists as to the exact dimensions of the slate, it was at least a few feet square. The slate weighed approximately thirty to fifty pounds. POSMF ¶¶ 67, 68. The Plaintiff agreed to carry the slate, and he told the Defendant that it was not too heavy. DSMF ¶ 25. The Defendant knew that the slate had a sharp edge. POSMF ¶ 65.

The Defendant returned upstairs to the kitchen. POSMF ¶ 72. The Plaintiff then grabbed the slate with his hands, covering his right hand with a facecloth to protect his hand from the sharp edge of the slate. POSMF ¶ 53. When ascending the stairs carrying the slate-at about the third, fourth, or fifth step from the lower landing-the Plaintiff testified that the felt a "jolt, " that the "stairs moved, " the "staircase moved, " that the "stairwell just shifted. It moved." POSMF ¶ 36; PASMF ¶ 74. Consequently, the Plaintiff's grip slipped, and the slate embedded into his wrist. (Pl.'s Exh. A, Redmond Dep. at 32:23) The Plaintiff suffered significant injuries requiring surgery. PASMF ¶ 115.

3. The Stairs

The Defendant owned the house for about four months prior to the accident. DSMF ¶ 2. She testified that she never felt any instability while on the stairs. DSMF ¶ 8, 48, 49. Before the accident, she had personally removed carpeting and linoleum from the stairs, including many nails. DSMF ¶ 5. With the carpeting and linoleum removed, the stairs were bare, solid wood. DSMF ¶ 6. The Defendant knew that two cracks existed on separate steps of the stairs, but the Plaintiff does not maintain that those cracks contributed to his injuries. PASMF ¶ 89; DRSMF ¶ 89; DSMF ¶ 40.

4. The Expert

Post accident, the Plaintiff hired a safety expert to inspect and test the stairs. The expert, Robert Flynn, is a safety and risk manager for the Maine Merchant's Self-insured Worker's Compensation Trust, and he makes field visits to make safety inspections. Flynn performed his analysis in September, 2014-two and a half years after the accident. POSMF ¶ 91. From an inspection of the staircase structure, Flynn determined that the staircase was supported properly. (Pl.'s Exh. C, Flynn Dep. 10:22-11:4) The staircase did not shake when he put his weight against it. (Pl.'s Exh. C, Flynn Dep. at 9:16-23)

Upon finer evaluation, however, Flynn found that the steps of the stairs depress under weight. The baseline standard for stairs, he testified, is that the steps should not depress to any appreciable degree. PASMF ¶ 101; DOSMF ¶ 101. However, Flynn's measurements showed a quarter-inch compression in the fourth step, which was unacceptable in his opinion. PASMF ¶ 98. As to other steps, Flynn noted that they too compressed, but he made no measurements to quantify this compression. PASMF ¶ 100.

Also, Flynn found that the staircase violated the National Life Safety Code ("LSC"), which has been adopted as law in the State of Maine. PASMF ¶ 102-08. First, he discovered a lack of uniformity in the height of adjacent risers between each step, finding that the risers varied in height. Whereas the LSC allows a 3/16 inch variance between adjacent risers, the Defendant's stairs exceeded that height variance for many of the steps in her staircase. POSMF ¶ 105. Moreover, Flynn found that the Defendant's stairs exceeded the height variance allowed by the LSC for variations across the whole flight, which should not exceed 3/8 inch. POSMF ¶ 107. In fact, the largest variation of riser heights over the course of the Defendants staircase was 1 inch, significantly greater than the 3/8 inch permissible under the LSC. POSMF ¶ 108.

Flynn furthermore read through the Plaintiff's deposition to form his opinions. PASMF ¶ 109. Flynn opined that the "shifting" that the Plaintiff felt was the flexibility/depression of the steps as he climbed. PASMF ¶ 109. He opined that the variations in riser height, combined with the steps' flexibility/depression ultimately contributed to this accident because it caused the Plaintiff to lose his balance and stumble. PASMF ¶¶ 110-114. ...


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