In Hoffman v. Jefferson Parish Hospital Services District No. 2, the plaintiff sued East Jefferson General Hospital (EJGH) for injuries she allegedly sustained during a slip and fall. More specifically, while visiting her twin children at the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, Ms. Hoffman entered the hospital’s break room seeking a cup of coffee and slipped on a wet substance on the floor, injuring her left knee.
After trial of the matter, the judge ruled in favor of EJGH dismissing Ms. Hoffman’s claims against the hospital. In its reasons for judgment, the court noted that EJGH had exculpated itself of any presumption of negligence by exercising reasonable care through its formal inspection and cleaning policies and furthermore the evidence submitted by Ms. Hoffman did not support a finding that EJGH had actual or constructive notice of the wet substance on the floor prior to the fall.
On appeal, Ms. Hoffman alleged that the trial court incorrectly found that (1) she was required to prove EJGH had actual or constructive notice of the wet substance because that standard of law does not apply to hospitals and (2) EJGH acted reasonably to discover and correct the dangerous condition. As to the first issue on appeal, Ms. Hoffman contended that Louisiana’s Merchant Statute, La. R. S. 9:2800 (pdf) and following, does not apply to hospitals such as EJGH and thus she did not have to prove actual or constructive notice of the wet substance on the floor. In support of her position, Ms. Hoffman relied on cases involving private facilities where the courts held that Louisiana’s Merchant statute did not apply to hospitals and nursing homes.
EJGH distinguished these cases on the basis that the language of Louisiana’s Merchant Statute expressly applies to public entities.
“no person shall have a cause of action . . . against a public entity for damages caused by the condition of things within its care and custody unless the public entity had actual or constructive notice of the particular vice or defect which caused the damage prior to the occurrence, and the public entity has had a reasonable opportunity to remedy the defect and has failed to do so.”
The appellate court also cited Blount v. East Jefferson General Hospital, a prior slip and fall case against EJGH. In Blount, the court upheld summary judgment against a plaintiff who made a slip and fall claim against EJGH because the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate actual or constructive notice as required by the statute. Applying Louisiana’s Merchant Statute and Blount, the court held that because Ms. Hoffman had failed to demonstrate that EJGH had actual or constructive notice of the spill, she could not recover from the hospital.
The court also rejected Ms. Hoffman’s argument that the trial court erred in finding that EJGH had acted reasonably to discover and correct dangerous conditions in the break room. In doing so, the court noted that EJGH presented evidence that its employees regularly inspected public areas of the hospital and promptly remedied any spills or other dangerous conditions those inspections revealed.
Take-Away: A person asserting a premises liability claim against a public entity of the State of Louisiana—including a public hospital—must prove under Louisiana’s Merchant Statute and underlying case law that the entity had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition that caused her injury.
This article was co-authored by Mark Holden, a summer associate at Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC.