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Patricola v. Imperial Palace of Mississippi, LLC

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 8, 2017

PETER J. PATRICOLA, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF LANITIA PATRICOLA APPELLANT
v.
IMPERIAL PALACE OF MISSISSIPPI, LLC D/B/A IMPERIAL PALACE CASINO, RESORT & SPA APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/24/2016

         HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. LAWRENCE PAUL BOURGEOIS JR.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CATHERINE H. JACOBS.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: PATRICK R. BUCHANAN.

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., FAIR AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          FAIR, J.

         ¶1. Lanitia Patricola slipped and fell on a small puddle in the lobby of the Imperial Palace Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Patricola alleged that the puddle was created by condensation dripping from an air conditioning vent overhead; she testified that the ceiling around it was stained and that there were drops of water still hanging from the vent immediately after her fall. The trial court granted summary judgment against her based on its conclusions that Patricola[1] had failed to show condensation created the puddle or that Imperial Palace had notice of the puddle's existence. But, on summary judgment, Patricola must be given the benefit of every inference that can reasonably be drawn from the evidence. After our de novo review of the record, we disagree with the circuit court on both points. We reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand the case for trial.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶2. The record evidence consists of the depositions of Patricola, her husband, two employees of Imperial Palace, an incident report created the day of the accident, and several photographs of the vent in question taken by Patricola and her husband several weeks after her fall.

         ¶3. Patricola and her husband essentially testified to the same things - that, on September 14, 2007, they ate breakfast at the casino. As they were leaving, Patricola slipped on a small puddle of water. The puddle was located at the junction between the casino itself, which was a barge, and the land-based entrance. At the junction, the floor transitioned from carpet to marble tile; the puddle was on the marble. Patricola slipped and fell as she was stepping from the carpet to the tile.

         ¶4. Above the puddle was a long, narrow vent, [2] which at the time was carrying cold air from the air conditioning system. The vent had visible condensation on it, and the ceiling around the vent was stained by water damage. The Patricolas admitted that they did not actually see drops of water falling from the vent onto the floor. Both testified that they returned to the lobby several weeks later and photographed the vent, where they again found visible condensation.[3] Patricola's husband testified that he also saw water on the floor on that second visit.

         ¶5. Employees of the Imperial Palace admitted that condensation sometimes formed on the vents in the lobby, though they had no specific recollection of the particular vent in question. One employee admitted that condensation formed on the vents "every now and then" and that he cleaned it from the floor and vents, apparently routinely. He had a specific tool he used for cleaning condensation from the vents, which were about twelve feet above the floor. The employee added that cleaning condensation from the floor alone would not fix the problem, as it would continue to drip from the vents if it was not removed. Another employee admitted that water condensed on the air vents in the lobby when outdoor temperatures and humidity were high, because of the influx of air from outside, though he denied that it was a regular problem.

         ¶6. An incident report prepared by Imperial Palace employees on the day of Patricola's fall stated that one of the employees "observed a small amount of condensation leaking from the ceiling onto the carpet."

         ¶7. Turning to the law of premises liability, there is no dispute that Patricola was a business invitee. See Grammar v. Dollar, 911 So.2d 619, 624 (¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2005) (defining business invitee as "someone who enters onto another's premises at the invitation of the owner for the purpose of benefitting both parties"). The owner of a business is not required to insure against all injuries, even for an invitee; instead, he "owes a duty to an invitee to exercise reasonable or ordinary care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition or [to] warn of dangerous conditions not readily apparent, which the owner or occupant knows of, or should know of, in the exercise of reasonable care." Robinson v. Ratliff, 757 So.2d 1098, 1101-02 (ΒΆ12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2000). The owner has no duty to warn of a defect or danger that is as well ...


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