In Serrano v. Lauren Housing Authority, a Mississippi plaintiff sued a government entity that managed her apartment complex after a fluorescent light box in her kitchen apartment fell, resulting in pieces of drywall hitting her. She sued for breach of implied warranty of habitability as well as premises liability. The apartment complex was managed by the government entity Laurel Housing Authority. The government entity argued that it didn't know, nor should it have known, that the light box would fall and hit someone.
Under Mississippi Code Annotated section 11-46-9(1)(v), a government entity has immunity from liability for dangerous property conditions unless a plaintiff can show notice of the dangerous condition. In this case, the plaintiff had to prove the government entity had actual or constructive notice of the light box in her apartment in order to recover damages. The trial was bifurcated so that the first phase would turn on the issue of liability, and only if the government entity was found liable would the plaintiff be able to present her evidence about damages.
The plaintiff argued that the government knew the light boxes were too heavy for the particular spot in the kitchen where they were hung. The units in the plaintiff's complex had been renovated, and during the renovations, the same type of fluorescent light was installed in each unit. The plaintiff agreed that the government hadn't actually installed the light boxes, but she argued that the government did recognize the fixtures were too heavy for the drywall and was replacing them.
The plaintiff presented testimony from a mechanic for the government, who testified that similar fixtures had fallen before over the past five years, and the maintenance staff always replaced the boxes with lighter fixtures. She also presented testimony from her husband, who had talked to the maintenance supervisor, who admitted the light was too heavy. The maintenance supervisor testified that he had repaired the ceiling and put up a lighter fixture, but he didn't remember any other light boxes ever falling. He denied telling the husband that he knew the fixture fell because of its weight. The plaintiff testified that she knew there were cracks in the ceiling and that the maintenance supervisor had told her the light box fell because it was not hung properly. The property manager testified there was no record of light box falls.
The case was a Mississippi Tort Claims Act case, and so there was no jury and the judge served as the fact-finder. The judge decided that the testimony from the government authority was more credible than the plaintiff's witnesses' testimony. He ruled there was no credible evidence that the government authority had notice before the ceiling fell. The judge also concluded that the government authority had discretionary function immunity.
The plaintiff argued that the finding of no notice was clearly wrong. She argued that, if anyone lacked credibility, it was the maintenance supervisor, who was a current employee with an incentive to protect his employer. The appellate court explained that determining witness credibility is solely the authority of the trial judge. It also explained that, even though the plaintiff had shown a lighter fixture was installed, this was a subsequent remedial measure. Subsequent remedial measures taken after an accident are not admissible to prove negligence or the need to warn. The court also found that the government was immune for dangerous conditions not caused by the governmental entity's employees' negligence and of which it did not have either actual or constructive notice. The judgment was affirmed.
If you or a loved one has been hurt on government property, you should be aware that there are special requirements associated with suing the government. An experienced premises liability attorney may be able to help you recover damages from the governmental entity responsible for the accident and any other entity responsible for keeping the property safe. Contact the skilled team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC for a free consultation today.
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