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Slip and Fall Plaintiff Was Not A Trespasser As A Matter of Law

Boyrie v. E & G Property Services, et al.
No. 11-CV-1631 (District of Columbia Court of Appeals, January 3, 2013)

by Colleen K. O’Brien, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Angelina Boyrie (“Plaintiff”) sued Defendants, claiming that she fell and was injured as a result of their negligence in failing to remove ice and snow from the property they owned and managed. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants, concluding that Plaintiff was a trespasser at the time of her fall and that Defendants did not owe her a duty of reasonable care. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that the record did not establish as a matter of law that Plaintiff was a trespasser, and therefore the Court reversed and remanded.

The undisputed facts were that Plaintiff’s friend, Edward Sturgis, arranged for his friend, Harold Rogers, to repair Plaintiff’s broken television. Some months later, Plaintiff and Mr. Sturgis decided to check on the status of the repairs, by going together to Mr. Roger’s apartment building, which is owned and managed by Defendants. Plaintiff did not notify Mr. Sturgis that she was coming. When Plaintiff and Mr. Sturgis arrived, they went to the front door of the apartment building and rang the doorbell, but no one responded. In an apparent attempt to gain access, they went around to the back of the building, a paved area resembling a parking lot that was dark and unlit. Plaintiff fell and fractured her ankle as she was walking back to the front of the building.

Plaintiff conceded that she was on the property without express invitation, but to the Court, that did not necessarily mean that she was a trespasser when she walked on the paved area adjacent to the sidewalk. Although the paved area was unlit, it appeared to be a parking lot, was immediately behind an apartment building, and was adjacent to a public sidewalk. There was no evidence in the record that access to the area was restricted in any way. As far as the current record revealed, a reasonable person could have concluded that the paved area was open, perhaps to the public generally, and at a minimum to someone seeking to contact a resident in the apartment building.

Because the undisputed facts on the current record did not establish as a matter of law that Plaintiff was a trespasser, Defendants were not entitled to summary judgment. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded.


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