BLUNT et al v. PHILADELPHIA HOSPITALITY, INC. et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER THAT DEFENDANT RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT IS GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART; ETC.. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JAN E. DUBOIS ON 3/21/17. 3/22/17 ENTERED AND E-MAILED.(jl, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
JEANA ENNIS BLUNT and
THE RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL
March 21, 2017
This is a negligence case. Plaintiff Jeana Blunt avers that she suffered injuries when she
slipped and fell on a marble staircase at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
She alleges that her fall was caused by the negligence of defendant Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company,
LLC (“Ritz Carlton”). Charles Blunt, Jeana Blunt’s husband, asserts a derivative loss of
consortium claim. Presently before the Court is Ritz Carlton’s Motion for Summary Judgment.
The Court concludes that there is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could find
that a transitory dangerous condition—liquid on the steps—caused plaintiff’s accident. The
Court also concludes that there is evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that Ritz
Carlton had notice of the alleged non-transitory dangerous condition—slippery and worn steps—
that plaintiff claims was the cause of her accident. Therefore, defendant’s Motion is granted in
part and denied in part.
The relevant facts as set forth in the evidence submitted by the parties are as follows.
Around 11:00 A.M. on November 1, 2013, plaintiff Jeana Blunt (“plaintiff”) arrived at the Ritz1
Carlton Hotel (the “Hotel”) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend a symposium. Pl.’s Resp. to
Mot. for Summ. J. (“Pl.’s Resp.”), Ex. 2, Deposition of Jeana Blunt (“Blunt Dep.”) 91:3–21. It
was raining that morning. Pl.’s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 1, Declaration of Jeana Blunt
(“Blunt Decl.”) ¶ 2.
Plaintiff proceeded to the symposium, which required her to descend a staircase (“the
staircase”). Blunt Decl. ¶ 6. The staircase consists of 20 marble steps, and there is a handrail on
the right side of the staircase as one descends. Blunt Dep. 102:2–5; 106:9–107:5. Plaintiff held
the handrail as she descended the steps. Id. Each step of the staircase has three strips containing
“frictional material.” Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.’s Mot.”), Ex. D, Guest Accident Report at
5; Pl.’s Resp., Ex. 3, Declaration of Daniel Banks, P.E. (“Banks Decl.”), Ex. A, at 2. Plaintiff
testified that she “[didn’t] have a choice” but to step on the strips while descending the stairs, and
that she tried to step on the strips. Blunt Dep. 102:9–18; 105:23–106:3. Plaintiff further testified
that she did not think that her feet were ever positioned so that her feet “were not in contact with
the strips” while she descended the staircase. Id. at 104:18–109:22. Plaintiff’s expert, Daniel
Banks,1 reported that the friction strips were “worn down such that when [he] placed [his] hand
over the strips, they render little or no frictional material to these stairs,” and that the frictional
material was “worn flush or below the surface.” Banks Decl., Ex. B, at 1–2. These statements
were based on Mr. Banks’ inspection of the staircase on December 18, 2013, approximately six
weeks after plaintiff’s accident. Banks Decl., Ex. A, at 1.
Ritz Carlton separately filed a Motion to Exclude the Expert Reports and Testimony of Daniel
Banks. The Motion is based on the argument that Banks’ reports assume that plaintiff fell on the
marble steps, not the frictional material, whereas the evidence establishes that plaintiff fell on a
part of the steps with frictional material. The Court does not address that issue, or the issue
presented by the third Banks report, which includes an opinion on the adequacy of the frictional
material, because the Motion for Summary Judgment “assumes arguendo” that a dangerous
condition existed at the time of the accident, and does not address the nature of the condition.
Plaintiff descended approximately thirteen steps without issue. Blunt Dep. 104:4–6. As
plaintiff descended, she looked at each step, and she does not recall seeing any puddles or
condensation on the staircase. Blunt Dep. at 109:1–110:20. However, plaintiff was “very
concerned” about slipping on the staircase because “they are very oddly-shaped steps.” Id. On
the seventh or eighth step from the bottom of the staircase, plaintiff’s left foot “slipped out.” Id.
at 110:21–111:22. Plaintiff stated in her declaration that when her foot slipped, she “could tell
that the step was slippery.” Blunt Decl. ¶ 10. When she slipped, plaintiff was holding the
handrail with her right hand. Blunt Dep. at 111:23–112:1. She attempted to grab the rail with her
left hand as she fell, which caused her to twist her body, “smack [her] face on the railing,” and
go down the remaining steps on her back and “head first.” Id. at 112:2–16.
Defendant has operated the Hotel since 1999, and the “grip strips” on the staircase have
not been replaced or repaired since that year. Pl.’s Resp., Ex. 6, Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’s First Req.
for Admissions (“Def’s Resp. to Adm.”), ¶¶ 23–24. Before this incident, defendant had notice
that three other individuals fell on the staircase in 2007, 2008, and 2011. Pl.’s Resp., Ex. 8–10.
a. Applicable Law
The Court will grant summary judgment if “the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A fact is material when
it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.
The Court’s role at the summary judgment stage “is not . . . to weigh the evidence and
determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether . . . there is sufficient evidence
favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. at 249. In making
this determination, “the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most
favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that
party’s favor.” Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). However, the party opposing
summary judgment must identify evidence that supports each element on which it has the burden
of proof. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.
To establish negligence under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1)
the defendant owed “a duty or obligation recognized by law, requiring the actor to conform to a
certain standard of conduct for the protection of others against unreasonable risks,” (2) the
defendant failed to conform to that standard, (3) “a causal connection between the conduct and
the resulting injury,” and (4) “actual loss or damage” to the plaintiff. Nw. Mut. Life Ins. Co. v.
Babayan, 430 F.3d 121, 139 (3d Cir. 2005).
The parties agree that the relevant duty is that owed to a business invitee. Def.’s Mot. at
4; Pl.’s Resp. at 8–9. Under Pennsylvania law, possessors of a premises “owe a duty to protect
invitees from foreseeable harm;” that is, possessors owe a duty when the possessor “knows or by
the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves
an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitee.” Craig v. Franklin Mills Assocs., L.P., 555 F. Supp.
2d 547, 549 (E.D. Pa. 2008) (quotation marks and citations omitted). To show that the possessor
of the premises knew or, through reasonable care, should have known of the dangerous
condition, the invitee must present evidence that the possessor had actual notice of the condition,
had constructive notice the condition, or created the condition. Estate of Swift v. Ne. Hosp. of
Phila., 690 A.2d 719, 723 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1997) (citation omitted).
b. The Dangerous Condition
For purposes of the Motion, defendant “[a]ssumes arguendo that a dangerous condition
existed at the time of the accident,” and argues only that it did not have actual or constructive
notice of the alleged dangerous condition. Def.’s Mot. at 4, 6, n.1. Even so, to decide whether
there is evidence of notice, the Court must first determine the nature of the alleged dangerous
condition that caused the accident. The Complaint identifies two alleged dangerous conditions.
The first such condition is transitory in nature, resulting from “liquid which had accumulated” on
the staircase. Compl. ¶ 23. The second alleged condition is non-transitory, and is based on
defendant’s “fail[ure] to maintain the staircase in a safe condition” and “allow[ing] the staircase
to become slippery and hazardous.” Id. at ¶ 25. The Court rejects the first claim, but concludes
that there is evidence such that a reasonable jury could find that a non-transitory dangerous
As to the first claim, there is no evidence that liquid accumulated on the staircase on the
day of plaintiff’s accident. Although plaintiff testifies that it was raining on the day of the
incident, and that, as she slipped, she knew that the steps were “slippery,” Blunt Dep. at 109:8–
110:10; Blunt Decl. ¶ 10, she also said she “didn’t see puddles or anything like that” on the steps
as she descended the staircase, nor did she see any condensation. Blunt Dep. at 109:5–23. Thus,
no reasonable jury could find that there was any liquid on the staircase at the time of plaintiff’s
accident. The Court therefore grants defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to
the claim that a liquid on the steps caused the accident.
Plaintiff also alleges that the “slippery and hazardous” nature of the staircase constituted
a non-transitory dangerous condition. Compl. ¶ 23. The parties agree that each step of the
staircase has three strips containing “frictional material.” Guest Accident Report at 5; Banks
Decl., Ex. A, at 2. Plaintiff has presented evidence that, despite these strips, the stairs constitute a
dangerous condition. First, plaintiff’s expert stated that six weeks after plaintiff’s accident, the
friction strips were “worn down such that . . . they render little or no frictional material to [the
Staircase].” Banks Decl., Ex. A, at 2. Second, the staircase has only one handrail, which has led
to “heavy wear of the steps” on the side that plaintiff used to descend. Id.; Blunt Dep. 102:2–5,
106:9–107:5. Third, plaintiff testified that when her foot slipped out, she “could tell that the step
was slippery.” Blunt Decl. ¶ 10. The Court concludes that plaintiff has presented evidence on
which a reasonable jury could find that the “worn down” and “slippery” nature of the staircase
constituted a non-transitory dangerous condition.
c. Defendant Had Notice of the Dangerous Condition
Having determined that the only viable alleged dangerous condition is the “worn down”
and “slippery” nature of the staircase, the Court turns next to the question of whether defendant
had notice of that condition. In its Motion for Summary Judgment, defendant argues that plaintiff
has not produced any evidence that it had actual or constructive notice of any alleged dangerous
condition.2 Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. Summ. J. (“Mot. Summ. J.”) at 4–7. In response,
plaintiff argues that there is sufficient evidence on which a reasonable jury could find that
defendant knew or should have known of the dangerous condition of the stairs.
Defendant argues that plaintiff has not presented evidence that defendant created the dangerous
condition, an alternative approach to proving notice. Estate of Swift v, 690 A.2d at 723 (citation
omitted). Because the Court concludes that defendant had both actual and constructive notice of
the dangerous condition, the Court need not reach question of whether defendant created the
i. Actual Notice
Defendant first argues that it did not have actual knowledge of any dangerous condition.
The Court rejects this argument. Specifically, defendant has admitted that it was aware of at least
three other incidents where individuals slipped or fell on the staircase. Pl.’s Resp. to Mot. for
Summ. J., Ex. 8–10. These incidents occurred in 2007, 2008, and 2011. Id. And the condition of
the staircase remained unchanged between those incidents and plaintiff’s accident—the “grip
strips” on the staircase have not been replaced or repaired since at least 1999, when defendant
began to operate the Hotel. Def’s Resp. to Adm., ¶¶ 23–24. Defendant’s Motion does not
mention these incidents. Based on defendant’s admissions, the Court concludes that a reasonable
jury could find that defendant had actual notice of the alleged non-transitory dangerous condition
of the stairs at the time of plaintiff’s incident.
ii. Constructive Notice
Defendant next argues that it did not have constructive notice of the alleged dangerous
condition. The Court rejects this argument as well, because plaintiff has presented sufficient
evidence of constructive notice to survive summary judgment. Courts rely on multiple factors to
determine whether possessors of land had constructive notice of a dangerous condition, including
“the number of persons using the premises, the frequency of such use, the nature of the defect, its
location on the premises, its probable cause, and the opportunity which defendant, as a
reasonably prudent person, had to remedy it.” Craig, 555 F. Supp. 2d at 549–50 (citation
omitted). However, the “duration of the hazard” is one of the most important factors, id., and
when the dangerous condition is non-transitory, Pennsylvania courts permit a defendant to be
“charged with [constructive] notice . . . because of the durability of the condition.” Craig v.
Franklin Mills Assocs., L.P., 555 F. Supp. 2d 547, 554 (E.D. Pa. 2008) (citing Neve v.
Insalaco’s, 771 A.2d 786, 791 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001)).
The alleged dangerous condition in this case is the “slippery” and “worn down” nature of
the staircase. There can be no question that the staircase is a permanent part of the Hotel. See,
e.g., Banks Decl., Ex. A, at 2 (opining that the staircase “appear[s] to date from the late 19th
Century[.]”). Because of “the durability of the condition,” the Court concludes that a reasonable
jury could find that defendant had constructive notice of the dangerous condition of the
Staircase. Neve v. Insalaco’s, 771 A.2d at 791.
Plaintiff has produced evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that defendant
had both actual and constructive notice of the alleged non-transitory dangerous condition—the
slippery and worn condition of the steps. Therefore, the Court rejects defendant’s argument on
this issue, and denies defendant’s Motion as to plaintiff’s claim that the accident was caused by
the permanent condition of the staircase.
d. Loss of Consortium
Finally, defendant argues that Charles Blunt’s loss of consortium claim should be
dismissed because plaintiff’s negligence claim fails. “Any action for loss of consortium is
derivative, depending for its viability upon the substantive merit of the injured party’s claims.”
Schroeder v. Ear, Nose & Throat Assocs. of Lehigh Valley, Inc., 557 A.2d 21, 22 (Pa. Super.
1989). Because plaintiff’s negligence claim survives summary judgment, Mr. Blunt’s dependent
loss of consortium claim also survives. The Court therefore denies defendant’s Motion as to the
loss of consortium claim.
For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s Motion to Summary Judgment is granted in part
and denied in part. The Motion is granted as to plaintiff’s negligence claim based on a transitory
dangerous condition of the staircase—liquid on the staircase. The Motion is denied as to
plaintiff’s claim based on the non-transitory dangerous condition—the worn and slippery steps—
and denied as to Mr. Blunt’s loss of consortium claim on that ground.
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