Phila. judge urges appellate court to affirm ruling in security guard slip-and-fall case

By Jon Campisi | Mar 29, 2012

A state trial court judge in Philadelphia has asked the appellate court panel hearing a case involving a security guard who slipped on a patch of ice while patrolling a Center City parking garage to uphold the court’s earlier ruling that granted summary judgment to the defendants in the case.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Allan L. Tereshko, in an opinion released March 27, asked that the court’s decision to grant Parkway Corporation and University City Science Center’s motion for summary judgment be affirmed.

The two defendants were party to litigation initiated by Jamira Burley in late April 2009 following a slip-and-fall incident at a Market Street parking garage back on Dec. 21, 2008.

The garage, which was owned by University City Science Center, was under the care of property manager Parkway Corporation.

Burley was employed as a security guard by Spectra Guard Acquisitions, which does business as Allied Barton, the firm contracted with the defendants to provide security at the premises.

Upon beginning her shift on that late December day in 2008, Burley was told by a previous shift supervisor that there was an accumulation of ice in the garage, according to background information in the court opinion.

As a shift supervisor, court papers state, the plaintiff herself was trained to look for safety hazards in the parking garage, including snow and ice.

Under protocol, Burley was supposed to inform a supervisor if she discovered a dangerous condition on the premises; she didn’t do so on that day, instead opting to chance it and traverse the ice. After doing so, Burley slipped and sustained injury.

Burley filed her complaint with Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court on April 24, 2009, after which she filed a joinder complaint against Spectra Guard on June 5, 2009.

Spectra Guard answered the complaint later that month.

The court eventually denied a motion for summary judgment that had been filed by Spectra Guard, but it granted partial summary judgment to defendant University City Science Center, the opinion states.

In early August 2011, after various motions and countermotions had been filed by all parties in the litigation, the court granted summary judgment to Parkway, Allied Barton and UCSC.

Last fall, Burley appealed to a state appellate court. The issues to be addressed on appeal are whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to both Parkway and UCSC.

In his opinion, Tereshko said the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the two aforementioned defendants should be upheld for various reasons.

First, Tereshko said Burley herself admitted to having had knowledge of the icy condition in the garage before she decided to knowingly walk across the floor.

Tereshko also wrote that since there were no Parkway employees on the premises that day, they would have had no knowledge of the dangerous condition.

Citing case law, Tereshko wrote that liability is minimized when injured parties themselves have knowledge of a dangerous condition, but nonetheless decide to place themselves in harms way.

“The facts presented by the parties in the instant matter are not contested,” Tereshko wrote. “Rather, Plaintiff disputes whether or not, on the basis of the facts alleged, Defendants owed Plaintiff a duty that was breached by Defendants’ failure to warn.”

Tereshko disagreed with Burley’s assertion that the court erred by granting summary judgment to the defendants because they owed a duty to the plaintiff.

“Plaintiff knowingly encountered an open and obvious risk after being warned of the potential danger by her coworker and despite the availability of alternate routes,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiff observed the risk she had been advised of and chose to encounter it. By admitting that she observed the ice and recognized the risk and chose not to take an alternate path, Plaintiff assumed the risk of injury.”

Tereshko also wrote that Burley’s status as an independent contractor relieved the defendants of a duty to warn. And despite the fact that they had no such duty, “Plaintiff was in fact warned of the ice by her coworker at the start of her shift.”

Given all the factors leading up to the slip-and-fall incident, Tereshko wrote, the court decided that the plaintiff has no right to recover damages from the defendants for her injuries.

Tereshko requested that the appellate court uphold his decision in the case.


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