Mississippi Supreme Court Rules Against Victim in Slip and Fall Case
The Mississippi Supreme Court released an unfortunate decision recently when it yet again sided with a defendant in a personal injury case. The Court reversed an intermediate state appellate court’s reversal of a summary judgment issued in a slip and fall case.
The slip and fall incident occurred at the Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport. The plaintiff is a decorated Air Force doctor who sued the airport after he slipped and fell down a wet set of aluminum steps. This was one case where simply saying “slip and fall” fails to do the situation justice. The Air Force doctor actually slipped and fell down two stories worth of steps.
The airport where the injury occurred sought summary judgment under the
Mississippi Tort Claims Act. Their argument was as follows: First, they
claimed that the airport had immunity under the MTCA because the dangerous
condition the plaintiff alleged was open and obvious to all those exercising
due care. Second, the airport claimed it was immune from suit because
the acts or omissions were discretionary functions.
This discretionary function exception is commonly seen given that it is one of the biggest exceptions to governmental liability under the MTCA. Mississippi, unfortunately, doesn’t have a monopoly on the exception as the Federal Tort Claims Act contains a similar exception. The discretionary function exception aims to protect the government from liability for any claim based upon the performance, or the failure to perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a government employee. The point of the exception is to prevent judges from second guessing administrative decisions on the part of government officials that were made with good reason.
The omission that was central to this case was the failure to place an anti-slip tape on the aluminum stairs. The problem here is that the plaintiff never claimed the issue was the order, or lack thereof, to put the tape on the stairs. The airport did order the purchase of the tape and did use it. The issue, according to the plaintiff, was that they did not properly apply the tape they had, something that would seem to take the case away from an issue of discretionary function.
Alas, the Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed. The High Court found that the “day-to-day operational activities at issue in this case involved choice and judgment, because there are no laws or regulations dictating how those activities are to be performed.” Therefore, the Court said without a law on the books, the Court did not want to second-guess the employee who laid the tape’s judgment.
To read the full opinion, click here.