Court Finds Park Not Liable for Injuries Caused by Broken Handrail

Earlier this month, a West Virginia court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that arose when the plaintiff was injured after the handrail he leaned against broke, causing the man to fall down a hill. The decision in the case, Wheeling Park Commission v. Dattoli, reversed a lower court’s judgment in favor of the plaintiff and held that the lower court should have granted the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict.

Wooden HandrailThe Facts of the Case

The Dattolis were attending an event at Wheeling Park. Due to the popularity of the event, there was no seating available, and the Dattolis opted to stand. Mr. Dattoli quickly inspected a nearby handrail before leaning up against it, but as he did, the handrail snapped. Mr. Dattoli fell past the rail and down a hill, injuring his shoulder as a result. He filed a negligence lawsuit against the park, claiming that the park was responsible for his injuries because it was the park’s duty to keep safe premises, including the handrail.

At trial, the Dattolis called the Director of Operations for the park, who testified that the fence was installed between 1970 and 1990, that there were no maintenance records for the fence, that the fence had a life expectancy, and that the park’s management was in a better place to ensure that the handrail was in good condition than was a guest. The Park called no witnesses but asked the court to enter a directed verdict in its favor, arguing that the Dattolis failed to show evidence that the Park was negligent.

The court overruled the Park’s objection and submitted the case to the jury, which awarded Mr. Dattoli roughly $55,000 in damages. Both parties appealed; Mr. Dattoli argued that the damages award was insufficient, and the Park argued that the judge should have granted its motion for a directed verdict.

On Appeal

On appeal, the court didn’t get to the plaintiff’s argument, since it held that the lower court should have granted the defense motion for a directed verdict. The court explained that under the theory of negligence, the plaintiff was required to show that the Park “knew or should have known” that there was a dangerous condition. However, the Dattolis failed to provide any evidence that the Park knew the handrail was in poor condition. The court pointed to Mr. Dattoli’s own statement that he looked at the handrail before leaning on it, and it looked fine. Since the Park could have no way of knowing that the rail was in poor condition, it was not negligent for failing to repair it. As a result, the plaintiff will not be awarded any compensation for his injuries.

Have You Been Injured on the Property of Another?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Maryland or Washington, D.C. premises liability or slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the Maryland and Washington, D.C. based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have ample experience in premises liability law and slip-and-fall cases, and we have a successful track record to prove it. Call 410-654-3600 to set up a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Finds Post-Mortem Misconduct Falls under Medical Malpractice Umbrella and Must Comply with Applicable Procedural Requirements, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 1, 2016.

Doctors Must Obtain Informed Consent Before Performing Any Operation or Procedure, Maryland Accident Law Blog, May 9, 2016.

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