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Groom v. Days Inn Of America

August 8, 1995

PHYLLIS GROOM AND STEVE GROOM, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

DAYS INN OF AMERICA, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Benton Division. No. 89 C 4129 -- Philip M. Frazier, Magistrate Judge.

Before BAUER and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges, and REYNOLDS, District Judge.*fn2

REYNOLDS, District Judge.

SUBMITTED APRIL 18, 1995 *fn1

DECIDED AUGUST 8, 1995

In May 1989, plaintiffs Phyllis and Steve Groom ("Grooms") filed a diversity action for negligence and loss of consortium against Days Inn of America ("Days Inn"), in the Southern District of Illinois. The Grooms sought damages for injuries sustained when Phyllis slipped and fell while walking down a Days Inn outside stairwell. A jury returned a verdict for Days Inn. In April 1991, the trial court denied the Grooms' post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial, and the Grooms appealed. *fn3 We affirm.

I. Proceedings Below

A. Evidence Presented at Trial

Phyllis and Steve Groom, of Illinois, were visiting New Orleans in October 1987, and were guests at the Days Inn hotel on Canal Street. In the morning of October 15, 1987, Phyllis Groom slipped in a Days Inn outdoor stairwell that she was descending to reach the parking lot. After slipping, she slid down the concrete stairwell on her buttocks and back, and she injured her back, legs, hips, arms, and shoulder blades. Her medical bills at the time of trial totaled $8,324.97, but her doctor testified that she would probably need back surgery someday that would cost approximately $35,000, including the cost of hospitalization.

The Grooms claim that Phyllis slipped and fell as a result of water that had accumulated on the stairs. Phyllis testified at trial that when she came to rest on the landing after sliding down the stairwell, the landing and much of her body were wet. Because the Grooms had not observed any rainfall in New Orleans during their two-day visit, they argue that the water must have fallen onto the stairwell when the Days Inn maintenance personnel hosed down a nearby parking lot that morning. The Grooms maintain that they used the stairwell numerous times during the preceding two days, and that the stairs were dry. Phyllis further argues that her footwear was not to blame, as she was wearing new Reebok jogging shoes.

There is no direct evidence in the record to support or reject plaintiffs' argument that the parking lot was hosed down the morning of the accident. But Days Inn maintained at trial that the stairwell and handrail were in good working order when Phyllis Groom slipped and fell, and that visibility was good.

Moreover, Days Inn presented evidence that Phyllis Groom had a history of back problems dating back to 1978, including degeneration of the lumbar disc, a slipped disc, and scoliosis (curvature of the lumbar spine). In 1981, she had back surgery (a partial laminectomy). In 1984, she was hospitalized with chronic lower back pain after falling out of a boat, and she was placed in pelvic traction. Also in 1984, she sought medical help after twisting her back lifting wood. And in 1985, she was hospitalized for 5 days after hurting her back while shoveling dirt.

Despite these previous back problems, Phyllis testified at trial that she had been able to perform many activities that she was either no longer able to perform, or able to perform only with great difficulty, after the October 1987 accident. Such activities included lawnmowing and yardwork, housecleaning, carrying groceries, jogging, bowling, dancing, and making love.

B. Post-Trial Proceedings

The Grooms unsuccessfully moved the court for a directed verdict during trial, and, after the jury found for Days Inn, they filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or, in the alternative, for a new trial. The ...


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