Proof Required for Plaintiffs’ Claims of Failure to Inspect Premises

Claimants Must Document Dangerous Conditions

We routinely assist clients in defending premises cases where the plaintiff claims the defendant failed to conduct reasonable inspections of the premises. After the recent decision Jones v. Imperial Palace of Mississippi, LLC, plaintiffs in those types of cases will have to do more in order to meet their burdens of proof.

In Jones, the Mississippi Supreme Court made it clear that “[a] plaintiff cannot succeed on a premises-liability claim without showing either that the defendant created the dangerous condition or that the defendant possessed actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition in sufficient time to remedy it.” Jones v. Imperial Palace of Mississippi, LLC, 147 So. 3d 318, 322 (Miss. 2014). The plaintiff in that case failed to present evidence of either one.

The plaintiff alleged he was walking in the defendant’s parking garage, tripped over a concrete parking bumper, and fell to the floor. According to the plaintiff, the parking bumper was misaligned and jutted into the path. But the plaintiff failed to prove the defendant created the dangerous condition or had actual or constructive knowledge of one and granted summary judgment.

On appeal, the Mississippi Court of Appeals agreed the plaintiff had failed to prove the defendant created the dangerous condition but found jury questions regarding whether the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of one and whether the defendant had failed to conduct reasonable inspections. In reversing summary judgment, the court primarily relied on deposition testimony from the defendant’s security investigator and on the case. Drennan v. Kroger, 672 So. 2d 1168 (Miss. 1996).

The security investigator testified that he knew some bumpers would become misaligned and that told his supervisors. Other deposition testimony also indicated the defendant had failed to conduct any inspections of the garage floor for one year prior to the plaintiff’s incident.

In Drennan, a grocery shopper slipped in a puddle of water on the aisle floor one rainy day, but the trial court granted directed verdict in favor of the store due to a lack of proof of constructive knowledge. Drennan, 672 So. 2d, at 1168-69. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed on appeal and held photographs, testimony, and other evidence showing the roof above the area where the shopper fell had leaked on prior occasions established proof of constructive knowledge. Id. at 1172.

Once the Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed in Jones based on the security investigator’s testimony and the Drennan decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted certiorari in Jones. The parties agreed in Jones the plaintiff was an invitee at the time of the incident, and it was undisputed there was a lack of evidence that defendant caused the misaligned bumper. As a result, the Mississippi Supreme Court applied a general rule applicable to premises cases involving an invitee where a dangerous condition results from the conduct of someone other than the defendant: “[W]here a dangerous condition resulted from another’s conduct, the plaintiff must produce evidence that the owner had actual or constructive notice of the danger for a period of time reasonably sufficient to remedy or warn of it.” Jones, 147 So. 3d at 319.

Relying on the security investigator’s testimony, the plaintiff argued the rationale from the Drennan decision applied, but the Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed; general knowledge that some bumpers had become misaligned was insufficient to satisfy the plaintiff’s burden of proof in Jones. The Mississippi Supreme Court held the plaintiff instead must prove the defendant “knew or had reason to know that the particular bumper that caused Jones’s injury was misaligned at the time of the injury.”

The plaintiff in Jones also argued deposition testimony disclosing the defendant had not conducted any inspections of the garage floor for one year was sufficient to defeat summary judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed that in general under Mississippi law, a premises owner has a duty to conduct reasonable inspections. See, e.g., Pigg v. Express Hotel Partners, LLC, 991 So. 2d 1197, 1200 (Miss. 2008).

Yet the Jones court limited the duty to situations where there is also proof that reasonable inspections would have led to the discovery of the specific dangerous condition at issue. Examples of those situations include cases where the evidence establishes the specific period of time for which the dangerous condition existed. If the plaintiff fails to show a reasonable inspection would have discovered the condition with evidence of how long the dangerous condition existed, there is no disputed issue of fact to submit to a jury for consideration.

The plaintiff in Jones also failed to meet the previous burden. As the Mississippi Supreme Court explained, “Because the plaintiff has failed to produce any evidence as to how long the bumper remained misaligned, the jury would have no evidentiary basis upon which to consider whether reasonable inspections could have revealed the dangerous condition.”  Jones, 147 So. 3d at 322.

After the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision in Jones, in a case in which the plaintiff alleges the defendant failed to inspect the premises, the plaintiff should have to do more than show a mere failure to inspect in order to survive summary judgment. At a minimum, the plaintiff should also be required to prove a dangerous condition existed long enough that a reasonable inspection would have revealed the existence of the particular dangerous condition giving rise to the plaintiff’s alleged injuries.