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I Wasn’t Aware; Isn’t Enough (PA)

August 8, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Peters-v.-Wellsboro.pdf">Peters v. Wellsboro</a></em>, the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently ruled on whether a plaintiff carried her burden establishing that a landowner breached its duty of care.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Specifically, one evening, Helen Peters was dining at the Penn-Wells Hotel in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, with her husband.  As they left the hotel/restaurant, Peters slipped and sustained injuries.  She claimed that she fell on a step that was unsafe, insufficiently lit, and generally posed a hazard to anyone exiting the restaurant.  Peters and her husband filed suit against the hotel, claiming, primarily, negligence.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">During discovery, Peters was deposed and testified that she missed the allegedly dangerous step because she did not realize it was there and its presence needed to be more pronounced.  At the close of discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Peters and her husband failed to show any breach on their part caused Peters to fall.  The trial court granted the motion, dismissing the case.  Peters appealed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In any claim for negligence under Pennsylvania law, the claimant must show that the defendant owed a legal duty and that the duty was breached, causing harm to the claimant.  A business invitee, like a restaurant or hotel patron, such as Peters, is owed the highest level of care. Accordingly, the landowner has an affirmative duty to protect the invitee from all known dangers, as well as those dangers that could be discovered with reasonable care on the landowner’s part.  Applying this standard, the Superior Court, ultimately, agreed with the trial court’s ruling reasoning the only evidence Peters had produced to establish a breach of that duty was her testimony that she was unaware of the step.  According to the Court, this was insufficient to establish that the hotel breached its duty to Peters, and, thus, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Accordingly, this case illustrates that a plaintiff-invitee’s lack of awareness of an allegedly dangerous condition, alone, will likely be insufficient to prove that a landowner breached its duty of care to the invitee.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Robert Turchick for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:chayes@wcmlaw.com">Colleen E. Hayes</a> with any questions</p>

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