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Ramp Rules Rule
by Ron Davis

The focus of blame for a slip-and-fall accident at a Louisiana shopping center has shifted from the tenant patronized by the accident victim to the center’s owner.

The shopping center, located in suburban New Orleans, leases space to the tenant for the operation of a barber shop. And the slip-and-fall accident occurred just outside the shop. The accident victim had gone there for a trim, as she had done on two previous occasions, and after exiting fell on a walkway ramp just outside the shop’s front door.

The woman explained that the toe of her shoe became caught in a ridge in the ramp and the ramp’s incline caused her fall. She injured her ankle, knees and back as a result of the accident.

She contended that the slope of the ramp was too steep and did not comply with local government building standards. In fact, the standards for walkway construction require a level platform if a door to a place of business opens outward toward a walk. Moreover, the standards call for handrails for a sloping ramp. There is neither a platform nor a handrail outside the barber shop that the woman had visited before her accident.

Finally, the slope of the ramp is greater than permitted by local guidelines, and the center’s plans submitted to local authorities do not even show the ramp where the woman fell.

In response, the shopping center owner pointed out that no accidents had previously occurred on that ramp, nor had any of the center’s patrons complained about the ramp. The owner added that the accident victim had not had any difficulty negotiating the ramp on previous visits to the barber shop and that her fall was actually caused when her attention on leaving the shop was drawn to the planting of flowers by nearby workmen.

The accident victim nevertheless sued the barber shop tenant as well as the shopping center owner. But a Louisiana court dismissed the lawsuit against both parties. The accident victim appealed.

A Louisiana appellate court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit against the barber shop tenant on grounds that his lease expressly states that maintenance of the sidewalks at the shopping center are the responsibility of the center’s owner.

As for the shopping center owner, however, the judges reversed the lower-court ruling, explaining, “The law sets forth precise standards for an access ramp and concludes that the failure to adhere to those standards renders this ramp unreasonably dangerous.” (Haley v. Roberts, 820 So.2d 1114 [La.App. 5 Cir. 2002])

Decision: June 2002
Published: September 2002



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