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True v. Greenwood Manor West

October 04, 2000

VIVIAN OPAL TRUE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
GREENWOOD MANOR WEST, INC., A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Jersey County No. 98L5 Honorable James W. Day, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

In March 1998, plaintiff, Vivian Opal True, sued defendant, Greenwood Manor West, Inc. (Greenwood), seeking damages for injuries she suffered when she tripped over a fan located inside her sister's room at a nursing home operated by Greenwood. Following a December 1999 jury verdict in True's favor, Greenwood filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (judgment n.o.v.), alleging that Greenwood did not owe a duty to True. In February 2000, the trial court conducted a hearing on Greenwood's motion and denied it. Greenwood appeals, and we reverse.

I. BACKGROUND

In her complaint, True alleged that on April 15, 1997, she was a visitor at Greenwood's nursing home. She further alleged that she sustained severe injuries to her head and body as a result of a "negligent condition of the premises."

At trial, True testified that on April 15, 1997, she went to visit her sister, who was a resident of Greenwood. When she arrived at her sister's room, her sister was not there. As True stepped into the room, she noticed a fan situated on the floor near the foot of her sister's bed. She walked past the fan and placed her purse on her sister's bed. After pausing momentarily at her sister's bed, True turned around to walk out of the room, tripped over the fan, and fell to the floor. She slid across the floor, hitting her head on the door.

On cross-examination, True acknowledged that nothing obstructed her view of the fan at the time she tripped over it, and she did not look down as she turned to leave the room.

Mary Black, a nurse at Greenwood, testified that on the day in question she responded to True's accident and found her lying on the floor, with a large hematoma on her head. Black also saw a fan lying in the middle of the room. She did not know why the fan had been placed in the room, and she acknowledged that the fan could have been stored in some other location at Greenwood when it was not in use.

Janet Young, a nurse at Greenwood, testified that the fan, which she estimated was about two or three feet wide, was turned off at the time of the accident. She stated that the fan could have been moved from the foot of the patient's bed when not in use.

Linda Franklin, director of nursing at Greenwood, testified that, about 10 days prior to the accident, a night nurse had placed the fan in the room to cool off True's sister's roommate, who was suffering from congestive heart failure, a condition that frequently makes patients feel uncomfortably warm. Franklin did not know when the fan had last been used. Franklin stated that there would be no reason to remove the fan, which she estimated was 20 inches square, from a patient's room when she temporarily leaves.

Lela Thompson, True's niece, testified that she had frequently visited True's sister at Greenwood during the two- or three-week period prior to the accident. During those visits, she had noticed the fan in the room, where it was positioned up against True's sister's dresser. Thompson never had any problem seeing or walking past it.

Other evidence described True's course of treatment following the accident and her medical problems since the accident.

In December 1999, the jury returned a verdict in True's favor and assessed her damages at $57,600. The jury also found True 50% negligent and accordingly fixed her recoverable damages at $28,800.

Greenwood subsequently filed a motion for judgment n.o.v., alleging that because the fan was an "open and obvious" condition, it did not owe a duty to True. In February 2000, the trial court conducted a ...


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