In a recent ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia explains that an injured person who gives different stories about how an accident occurred may not necessarily thwart his own case, even if the accident resulted from an “open and obvious” hazard.
Kruis was working as a driver for E. Stewart Mitchell when he was injured in an accident at Allmine’s asphalt plant in Inwood. According to Kruis, he was perched on an Allmine gantry – a piece of equipment that is lowered to the top of a truck so that a driver can walk across it, lift the truck lid, and fill the truck with asphalt – when the protective cage around it sprung loose and he fell to the ground. In a lawsuit against the company that followed, Kruis alleged that the company was liable for the injuries because someone had removed a protective bar from the gantry cage sometime before the accident happened. He additionally argued that the company should have used a chain to hold the cage in place.
Allmine later filed for summary judgment, asserting that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to show that the company was negligent in allowing the accident to occur. The company argued that the dangers posed by the gantry and cage were open and obvious. Allmine further maintained that Kruis was pushing two inconsistent stories of the accident: the first that he fell backward when the cage jarred loose and the second that he tumbled because the protective bar was missing.
Denying the summary judgment motion, the District Court found that the two versions of the accident weren’t so inconsistent to make them unbelievable. The Court noted that Kruis provided photographic evidence showing that the cage was raised following the accident and that the bar was missing. He also appeared to argue at one point that he stumbled when the cage raised and fell off of the gantry when because the bar was missing. “These two theories are contradictory, but assessing credibility and choosing between conflicting versions of events are matters for the jury, not for the court on summary judgment,” the Court concluded.
The Court further noted that the West Virginia Supreme Court in 2013 abolished the “open and obvious” doctrine, which had provided that a property owner isn’t liable for injuries caused by dangers on the property that are reasonably apparent. Instead, Court said, an owner is expected to address any hazards on the property for which the risk of injury is foreseeable. Whether the risk in this case was foreseeable was a question for a jury, according to the Court.
Unfortunately, worksite accidents like the one at issue in this case happen all too often. When they do, they often come with a number of complicated legal issues that an injured person should sort through before bringing suit. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in West Virginia, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our premises liability lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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