Appellate court upholds $80k award for icy slip-and-fall accident victim

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A Mooresville apartment complex could not convince the Court of Appeals of Indiana that it was not responsible for the injuries caused to a visitor during an icy slip-and-fall accident on its property.

Jessica Miller was injured after she slipped and fell on ice while leaving her boyfriend’s Mooresville apartment complex in January 2018. As a result of the fall, Miller sustained a non-displaced fracture of her dominant arm, making her unable to work for several weeks and forcing her to rely on others for assistance with daily activities.

Miller subsequently sued the apartment complex, Aberdeen Apartments II, alleging it was negligent and caused her injuries. The Hendricks Superior Court later denied Aberdeen’s motion for summary judgement, as well as a motion for a mistrial due to alleged misconduct by Miller’s counsel.

A jury ultimately found for Miller, awarding her $80,000 upon finding Aberdeen to be 80% at fault for her injuries and Miller 20% at fault. Aberdeen’s motion for relief from judgment was also denied, prompting its appeal in Aberdeen Apartments II LLC v. Jessica Miller, 21A-CT-1263.

As to Aberdeen’s argument that it was unaware of the late-night forecast that warned of “patchy freezing drizzle” and “slick roads” overnight, the COA found no evidence that Aberdeen’s employees were asleep when the 11:11 p.m. updated forecast was issued or when the ice began to form. It noted the circumstances were not such that the weather changed suddenly and without warning.

“And, notably, in January 2018, there were phone applications and other means of getting alerts twenty-four hours a day regarding dangerous weather conditions. We cannot say, as a matter of law, that a landlord of a multi-unit complex has exercised reasonable care for the safety of its tenants and guests if it has not utilized that technology during the winter months,” Judge Edward Najam wrote.

Concluding that Aberdeen did not negate the breach element of Miller’s negligence claim and that the trial court did not err when it denied Aberdeen’s summary judgment motion, the COA turned to its motion for relief from judgement.

On that issue, the appellate court found Aberdeen failed to show that the trial court abused its discretion when it held that Miller’s counsel had not committed misconduct. Nor did it show that the alleged misconduct prevented Aberdeen from fully and fairly presenting its case at trial.

Lastly, the COA found no abuse of discretion in the denial of Aberdeen’s motion to correct error alleging the jury’s damages award was excessive.

“She experienced such pain during her physical therapy sessions that she cried. She missed several weeks of work and had to use her sick leave, and she missed out on overtime pay,” Najam wrote. “During her recovery, Miller had to use up her savings to pay her bills, and when her savings ran out, she used credit cards and ‘racked up a lot of debt.’ In light of the evidence, and given the jury’s broad discretion, we cannot say that the damages award of $80,000 is ‘so outrageous that it impresses us at first blush with its enormity.’”

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