Washington Case Law Update: Summary Judgment Affirmed After Plaintiff Fails to Provide Evidence Showing the Cause of a Fall

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Washington Case Law Update: Summary Judgment Affirmed After Plaintiff Fails to Provide Evidence Showing the Cause of a Fall

From the desk of Kyle D. Riley: Claims for negligence in Washington require a plaintiff to prove (1) duty, (2) breach, (3) injury, and (4) proximate causation. If a plaintiff has 11 different theories potentially establishing liability, will that be sufficient to raise a jury question if the plaintiff is unable to prove how the incident occurred? Will the claim be subject to dismissal by summary judgment? Read on to find out.

Claims Pointer: In this unpublished personal injury case, a man was seriously injured when he fell from a ladder while helping a friend work on a structure. The man filed a negligence lawsuit against the friend with an alternative theory of res ipsa loquitor. During discovery, both the plaintiff and his friend testified that they did not know how the fall occurred, nor what caused it. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff failed to provide evidence relating to what caused the plaintiff’s fall. The trial court granted summary judgment and the plaintiff appealed. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff’s failure to provide evidence of cause was fatal to his suit as a matter of law and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor was unavailable.

Clarke v. Nichols et al., Wash. Ct. of App., No. 35477-6-III (January 3, 2019) (unpublished).

In the spring of 2013, Michael Clarke (“Plaintiff”) accompanied his friend Jay Nichols to a property owned by Mr. Nichols and his sisters (collectively, “Defendants”) to help spruce up a shed. Plaintiff was experienced with the type of work they aimed to accomplish, which involved climbing ladders to install soffit to the shed. Mr. Nichols had set up two A-Frame ladders in anticipation of the project. The ladders were wooden, approximately six-feet tall, and set about six-feet apart on...

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