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Cooley v. Kelly

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

May 24, 2017

Pocahontas Cooley
v.
Paul Kelly.

         Providence County Superior Court PC 07-2627 Associate Justice Brian Van Couyghen

          For Plaintiff: Pocahontas Cooley, Pro Se

          For Defendant: Stephanie Michel, Esq. Joseph M. Codega, Esq. Erin Illuzzi, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          Francis X. Flaherty Associate Justice

         This premises liability case, in which the plaintiff alleges she was injured after falling through a defective stair, came before the Supreme Court on April 27, 2017, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised by this appeal should not summarily be decided. After considering the written arguments of the parties, [1] and after a thorough review of the record, we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown and that this case should be decided at this time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         The plaintiff, Pocahontas Cooley, appeals from a decision of the Superior Court granting summary judgment to defendant, Paul Kelly. The plaintiff argues that the hearing justice erred when he concluded that there was no evidence that defendant had any notice of any defective condition and that there was no basis for the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

         At the time of the incident, both plaintiff and defendant resided at 517 Mail Road in Exeter. Although defendant was the sole owner of the premises, plaintiff had been living there since February 1998.[2]

         On the evening of June 10, 2004, plaintiff arrived at the premises; and, while talking on her cellular telephone, she climbed the wooden stairs that led to the front porch of their mobile home. She testified that when she reached the top stair she "began to fall through it and [her] feet hit the ground and [she] was encased in the stairwell." The plaintiff alleged that she sustained multiple injuries as a result of her fall.

         In May 2007, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant, alleging that he was negligent in that he had breached his duty to keep the premises in a safe and reasonable manner. She claimed that the stairs had rotted from insect damage and that, as a result, they were dangerous and not properly maintained.

         When she was deposed, plaintiff confirmed that no other steps or railings gave way. She also said that when she left the premises that night she walked down the same step that later crumbled beneath her. She also mentioned that she did not notice anything unusual about the step when she left. Furthermore, she testified that each and every time she arrived at or left the premises she stepped on that same step, and that she never had noticed anything wrong with it.

         In November 2010, after discovery had been completed, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.[3] The defendant contended that the alleged defect in the premises did not exist for a sufficiently long period of time so as to afford him reasonable notice, actual or constructive, of its existence. Almost two years later, after securing new counsel, [4] plaintiff ...


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