Sometimes an accident victim does not know the exact cause of the accident. They may not have seen what happened, or in some cases, the injuries may cause a loss of memory. A lack of memory can make a case very difficult, but Washington personal injury attorneys know that the difficulty may be overcome if there is other evidence showing the defendant’s liability.
A lack of memory was at issue in a recent case. The plaintiff suffered a head injury after falling while leaving a store. She filed suit against the tenant and the landlord of the store for failing to maintain safe premises. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed.
The plaintiff could not remember what caused her to lose her footing. The appeals court viewed the evidence in favor of the plaintiff. According to the record, there were three concrete steps, measuring 76 inches across the top step. There was a 37-inch wide plywood ramp over the stairs for wheelchair use. The ramp had a raised edge on either side, about an inch wide and two inches high. There were no handrails.
The defendants acknowledged they had a duty to protect the plaintiff from dangerous conditions. For the purposes of summary judgment, they also conceded that the ramp created a dangerous condition. The plaintiff’s expert concluded the ramp did not comply with the building code requirement for handrails, and the defendants accepted that conclusion. The only issue before the appeals court was that of causation.
Generally, causation is a question for the jury. It is only a question of law if there is so little causal connection that reasonable minds could not differ. The appeals court noted that proximate cause can be established through circumstantial evidence if a reasonable person could find a greater probability that the defendant’s conduct was the proximate case of the injuries than that it was not. A plaintiff does not have to have direct evidence or specific knowledge of how the incident occurred to prove proximate cause.
No one saw the plaintiff fall. The plaintiff could not remember what caused her to fall or even where she was when she started falling. She said she wanted something to grab as she fell, but there was nothing there. She testified she could not remember if she actually reached out but said she wanted to reach out because she was falling.
The plaintiff relied on the declaration of an expert to show causation. The expert concluded that the plaintiff was likely at the top of the stairs when she fell, based on the plaintiff’s stride length and the distance from the door to the concrete landing. She further stated that the ramp divided the stairs in two, with both sides being smaller than was safe. The expert also opined that the narrowness of the stairs increased the likelihood someone would contact the raised edges of the ramp. She stated that the plaintiff’s description of her fall was “consistent with the kinematics of a fall” caused by a trip.
The defendants argued the plaintiff could not remember why she fell, and it should not be assumed that she tripped on the ramp. The appeals court noted, however, that the plaintiff’s theory did not require a showing that she tripped on the ramp, or even an explanation of how she fell. The plaintiff’s theory of causation was based on the lack of handrails, which the plaintiff’s expert opined created a safety hazard that was a contributing factor to the fall. She further opined that if there had been appropriate handrails, the plaintiff could have grabbed one and prevented or lessened her injuries. They presented research on the effectiveness of handrails in preventing falls, including studies that showed that people are usually able to grab a handrail when they lose balance, if a handrail is available.
The appeals court distinguished the present case from others in which summary judgment was appropriate because the plaintiff could not remember how the incident occurred. In those other cases, the evidence allowed only speculation as to whether the defendant’s conduct caused the injuries. In this case, however, the expert’s testimony and other evidence could allow a reasonable juror to infer causation.
As this case shows, an accident victim may be able to recover compensation even without a specific recollection of what happened. The plaintiff must be able to prove causation through other evidence, such as expert testimony. If you have been injured on someone else’s property, call the Washington personal injury attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562. We can help you evaluate the potential evidence in your case.
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