HARRISBURG, Pa. - A jury needs to decide whether Maytag is liable for injuries suffered by a truck driver when he slipped and fell in a trailer drop at a Pittston industrial park more than a decade ago, Pennsylvania's Superior Court ruled last month.
"The jury could reasonably resolve these questions by concluding that Maytag exercised sufficient occupation and control in possession of the trailer drop lot to be in possession of the land," the three-judge panel said in its March 9 ruling. "If the jury finds that Maytag was in possession, it then must address whether Appellant satisfies the remaining standards for tort liability, i.e., whether Maytag (1) had a duty of care to Appellant, (2) breached this duty, (3) caused harm to Appellant as the proximate result of breaching this duty, and (4) caused damages to Appellant."
The appellants in the case, Albert E. Eisbacher and Lucille Eisbacher, had appealed to the Superior Court after the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas granted summary judgment in the slip and fall case in favor of Maytag, which is one of a number of defendants in the case. In its ruling, the Superior Court vacated and remanded the common pleas court decision.
The Eisbachers maintained the trial court was wrong when it concluded that Maytag had only leased the property where Albert Eisbacher was injured. The Superior Court judges agreed, holding that a material question of fact exists about whether Maytag possessed the land on which Mr. Eisbacher slipped and fell.
"If the jury determines that Maytag possessed this land, it must then determine whether Maytag is liable for Mr. Eisbacher’s injuries under principles of common law negligence," the Superior Court said.
The case is rooted in Eisbacher's slip and fall the evening of March 6, 2006, according to court documents. Eisbacher, employed by a company not a party to the case, was picking up cargo from the Maytag building in Covington Industrial Park when there were snow flurries and the blacktop access road to the premises was covered with snow. As Eisbacher returned to re-enter the tractor trailer, he slipped and fell on the ice and struck his head on the tractor, suffering serious injuries.
Almost two years later, on March 5, 2008, Eisbacher began his lawsuit. Maytag filed a motion for summary judgment, which initially was denied by the trial court on Jan. 22, 2014, without explanation. On March 30, 2015, Maytag filed its second motion for summary judgment, which the court granted following a May 28, 2015, hearing.
The judge who granted the motion concluded Maytag had merely leased the property, Goldsboro NI Industrial was responsible for furnishing snow removal under that lease and that Maytag had no responsibility for proper snow removal.
The following June, Eisbacher appealed, saying the judge was wrong in granting Maytag’s second motion for summary judgment because the court had denied Maytag’s earlier and almost identical motion. Eisbacher also claimed the trial court erred when it failed to recognize that Maytag was in exclusive possession of the premises where Eisbacher fell.
For its part, Maytag responded that it had no duty of care under common law or the lease, to which Eisbacher responded that Maytag’s reliance on the lease with Goldsboro is misplaced. The trailer drop, Eisbacher maintains, is not a parking area, loading area or roadway, and Maytag had a common law duty of care regardless of any language in the lease agreement because multiple duties can exist concurrently.
These questions need to be decided by a jury, the Superior Court said in its ruling.
"We hold that Maytag is not entitled to summary judgment, because a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Maytag was in possession of the trailer drop lot where Appellant, a business invitee, slipped and fell," the ruling said.