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Home / Courts / N.C. Court of Appeals / Tort/Negligence  – Premises Liability – Trip & Fall – College Bleachers – Notice – Proximate Cause – Spoliation

Tort/Negligence  – Premises Liability – Trip & Fall – College Bleachers – Notice – Proximate Cause – Spoliation

After falling down the defendant-college’s 1934-era wooden bleachers, plaintiff’s serious injuries prevented her from identifying the exact board on which her foot caught. Nevertheless, plaintiff’s evidence tends to show that the college failed to maintain or inspect the wooden bleachers constructed over 80 years ago and used regularly for sporting events and that the wooden boards had deteriorated and weakened throughout the entire structure; this is evidence of at least constructive notice of the dangerous condition of the bleachers.

We reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the college.

Plaintiff’s forecast of evidence was not based upon a claim of an individual weakened or broken board which might not have been discovered, even if the college had regularly inspected and maintained the bleachers, but instead tends to show that the entire structure had been neglected for many years. The wooden boards were rotting and decaying such that even a cursory inspection, according to plaintiff’s expert, would have revealed the defective condition. Plaintiff’s evidence is sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact that the college knew, or should have known in the exercise of reasonable care, of the dangerous conditions created by the allegedly rotting and decaying boards in the bleachers.

While plaintiff was unable to identify the exact board she stepped on, she did identify the specific area where she was sitting and then fell. Plaintiff’s evidence also shows that the boards in the bleachers were over 75 years old, rotting, decaying, and flexed easily. Plaintiff testified that the board flexed easily, trapping her foot, and causing her fall. Plaintiff thus sufficiently identified the location of her fall.

Finally, where defendant was on notice of plaintiff’s claim and her repeated requests to inspect the bleachers prior to any destruction or repair of the area, the evidence of the college’s removal of the boards in the exact area where plaintiff fell immediately prior to the inspection by plaintiff’s expert creates an adverse inference against the college that evidence from an expert inspection of the area where plaintiff fell would be harmful to the college. Even if the college’s alleged non-responsiveness to the request for inspection coupled with the timing of the disassembly was innocent, the prejudice to plaintiff is the same.

Reversed and remanded.

Shepard v. Catawba College (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-044-20, 25 pp.) (Donna Stroud, J.) (Philip Berger, J., concurring in the result only without separate opinion) Appealed from Mecklenburg County Superior Court (Adam Conrad, J.) Cheyenne Chambers for plaintiff; M. Duane Jones, Luke Sbarra, and Leila Rogers for defendant. N.C. App.

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