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Renner v. Retzer Resources, Inc.

Supreme Court of Mississippi

December 7, 2017

JOHN RENNER
v.
RETZER RESOURCES, INC. AND VELENCIA HUBBARD, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS MANAGER OF MCDONALD'S

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/02/2016

         WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. W. ASHLEY HINES

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: ROBERT F. STACY, JR., ROBERT ALLEN SMITH, JR.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: DAVID NEIL McCARTY ROBERT ALLEN SMITH, JR.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: ROBERT F. STACY, JR.

          BEFORE RANDOLPH, P.J., COLEMAN AND MAXWELL, JJ.

          RANDOLPH, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         ¶1. The instant case arises from a trip-and-fall at a McDonald's restaurant in Winona, Mississippi. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. The plaintiff appeals, arguing that summary judgment was not proper because (1) he established each element of a premises-liability claim, and (2) the defendants lost or destroyed key video evidence, which he argues forecloses the grant of summary judgment. The plaintiff has established several triable issues of fact. Accordingly, summary judgment was inappropriate, and the Court reverses and remands.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. According to the plaintiff, on August 13, 2012, seventy-six-year-old John Renner ("Renner") was traveling from Jackson, Mississippi, to his home in St. Louis, Missouri. He, his wife, and two other family members stopped at a McDonald's in Winona around 9:30 a.m. After he received his order, Renner set his food down at a table and walked to the condiment station. Renner picked up some condiments. Before returning to his table, he thought one of the McDonald's employees spoke to him. Renner turned and faced the counter before realizing the employee was speaking to another customer. As Renner turned back around to return to his table, his left foot struck a protruding leg of a highchair, causing him to fall and suffer injury to his face and left shoulder. After the fall, Renner heard one of the McDonald's employees ask another what the highchair was doing there, and to move it.

         ¶3. Two and a half years later, Renner filed suit against McDonald's; Retzer Resources, Inc., the owner and operator of the Winona McDonald's; and Velencia Hubbard, the manager of the Winona McDonald's. During discovery, the defendants claimed that video footage of the fall no longer existed.

         ¶4. The defendants, Hubbard and Retzer, moved for summary judgment, arguing that Renner could not demonstrate the existence of any genuine issue of material fact that: (1) the highchair was a dangerous condition; (2) any alleged danger was hidden; or (3) defendants had actual or constructive knowledge of the alleged dangerous condition. Attached to the defendants' motion and the plaintiff's response were the depositions of Greta Siegel, John Renner, Renner's wife Sherlyn, Velencia Hubbard, and Hugh Ballard, an Information Technology (IT) employee of Retzer Resources.

         ¶5. Greta Siegel was an eyewitness to the fall. Siegel, originally from Winona and a former Dean of Students at a college in California, was a frequent patron of the Winona McDonald's. Siegel visited McDonald's often in order to use its Wi-Fi connection. On the morning of the fall, Siegel was seated in a booth catty-corner to the location of the accident. Siegel's attention was directed that way when she heard a loud noise. She saw Renner fall and land on the floor. She also saw Renner's left foot tangled in the leg of a highchair. Siegel then heard a McDonald's employee immediately instruct other McDonald's employees to move the highchairs away from that area.

         ¶6. Siegel testified that she was not surprised that Renner had tripped at the condiment station, because the highchairs are obscured from view behind a "half wall, " and because the legs of the highchairs protrude out farther than the tops of the highchairs. When questioned about the visibility of the highchairs, Siegel testified that, "[w]hat is hidden is the way that bottom juts out, because as you walk up to the chairs, obviously, they are there, but what you wouldn't expect is for a . . . piece of it to be sticking out." When asked about the particular morning of Renner's fall and whether the ...


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