7th Circuit: Jury correctly ruled in favor of gas station in personal injury suit

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The District Court properly excluded an ordinance a woman sought to introduce at trial to bolster her case that a gas station should be liable for her injuries sustained after she fell off a curb walking around a display outside the gas station store, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Carol Ann Maurer visited the local Speedway gas station and walked along the store’s front entrance. She saw a display housing windshield wiper fluid that caused the sidewalk to narrow to about two feet. As she walked along the sidewalk, she rolled her ankle off the sidewalk curb, fell and seriously injured her shoulder.

She sued, alleging the slip-and-fall and her injuries were a result of the carelessness and negligence of the gas station. Five days before the close of discovery, she wanted to introduce a South Bend ordinance that requires an unobstructed sidewalk of at least 36 inches, but that ordinance was excluded from trial as irrelevant since nothing in the complaint alleged a violation of the ordinance.

The jury ruled in favor of the gas station, leading to Maurer’s appeal.

In Carol Ann Maurer v. Speedway LLC, #5487, 14-1634, the 7th Circuit agreed that the lower court did not err in excluding the ordinance from evidence. The ordinance incorporates the Indiana Administrative Code, which incorporates the American National Standard Institute requirements for accessible and usable buildings – specifically requirements entitled “accessible routes.”

The appeals court noted although the requirements do not specifically say they are for disabled people, an illustration included with the ANSI requirements shows a person in a wheelchair on a walkway. It also says the walkways must be at least 36 inches to comply with the standards of an “accessible route.” ANSI standards are intended to allow people with a physical disability to independently enter, get to or use a site, facility, building or element. Maurer does not have a disability and is not a member of the class of persons the ordinance intends to protect, Judge William Bauer wrote.


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