If a person is injured due to a " slip and fall" accident, more than one party may be at fault for the injury. In such a situation, Arizona applies the concept of "comparative fault," which allows a jury to determine how the responsibility for the injuries should be divided or apportioned between the defendants. However, such lawsuits can become quite complex, as the Arizona Court of Appeals case of Metzler v. BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Company demonstrates.
Puddle of water causes an injury
The victim was at a grocery store when she slipped and fell in a puddle of water and was injured. The water came from a leak in a refrigerator owned and maintained by a bottling manufacturer of soft drinks. The victim sued both the grocery store and the bottling manufacturer.
The victim reached a settlement agreement with the grocery story, but the lawsuit against the bottling manufacturer proceeded. The manufacturer then filed papers naming the grocery store as a "nonparty at fault"-that is, as another party potentially also responsible, and against whom fault could be apportioned when damages were determined later, meaning the manufacturer would pay less damages.
However, the jury found the manufacturer to be completely liable for the victim's injuries and awarded the victim $1.5 million. The manufacturer filed several post-trial motions, including motions for an entirely new trial.
Unfortunately for the victim, a new trial was granted due to a number of issues, one of which was the fact that the jury had not assigned the grocery store any portion of the fault for the victim's injuries. The victim appealed this decision.
The manufacturer's "burden of proof"
The Court of Appeals noted that comparative negligence is an affirmative defense-that is, it is up to the party asserting the defense to prove it. That party is referred to as having the "burden of proof" on the issue. Thus, the manufacturer had to offer evidence to prove that the non-party to the suit-the grocery store that had previously settled their portion of the lawsuit-was also at fault for the injuries. At that point, it would be up to the jury to decide the extent of that fault between the parties.
However, the manufacturer had failed to present any evidence at trial to establish the grocery store's liability for the personal injuries. In fact, during the appeal, the only thing the manufacturer offered to support its contention was that it had mentioned the grocery store's liability during portions of its closing argument. Because the manufacturer could not point to any evidence presented at trial establishing it had met its burden of proving the grocery store's liability, the trial court should not have granted a new trial. Thus, there would be no new trial, and the victim prevailed.
Multiple parties may be at fault for your injury
If you are hurt due to a slip, trip, or fall, the party responsible should be held accountable for your injuries. In some cases, more than one party may have had a hand in creating the conditions that led to your injury. Whether the responsible party is a property owner, a retailer, or landlord, you should seek advice from an experienced personal injury attorney who will understand all the legal complexities of your case and fight to uphold your rights.