St. Clair County jurors return defense verdict in favor of Taco Bell in slip, fall suit

A St. Clair County jury returned a defense verdict in favor of Taco Bell in a suit alleging a woman was injured when she slipped and fell on compacted snow and ice outside the O’Fallon restaurant.

Jurors reached their verdict on Jan. 24 following a trial in Circuit Judge Heinz Rudolf’s courtroom.

Taco Bell was represented by Nicole Winters of Craney Winters Law Group LLC in Edwardsville.

Plaintiff Jillian Roti-Dunnavant was represented by Andrew Toennies of Kirkendall Dwyer LLP in St. Louis.

The original complaint was filed as an arbitration case on Sept. 1, 2020. The plaintiff sought damages in excess of $50,000, so the case was amended and transferred to the litigation division in December 2020. Most recently, a second amended complaint was filed on Jan. 8, shortly before trial began.

In an opposition to Roti-Dunnivant’s motion to file a second amended complaint, Taco Bell argued that the plaintiff was acting in bad faith to prevent removal of her case to federal court.

“Plaintiff’s informal disclosures, the incomplete production of documents, and the untimely motion practice is nothing short of gamesmanship and dilatory tactics to prejudice the defense,” Winters wrote.

Roti-Dunnivant originally testified on Sept. 28, 2021, that she was no longer being treated for her knee injury. However, she later returned to “Dr. Bradley” on June 9, 2022, and scheduled another appointment for Oct. 17, 2020 – the same day the trial was originally set to begin.

The trial was postponed until Dec. 12, 2022, but Roti-Dunnivant scheduled another appointment with Bradley that week. The trial was continued a second time to Jan. 23.

The opposition stated that defense counsel was also informed that Roti-Dunnivant intended to amend her complaint to reflect ongoing treatment with Bradley.

“To date, defendant has received only a portion of plaintiff’s medical records and bills of ongoing treatment with Dr. Bradley, even after multiple requests. Plaintiff has had ample opportunity to amend her complaint and has failed to do so until weeks before trial. Plaintiff failed to timely amend her complaint and failed to disclose ongoing treatment with her amended answers to interrogatories, thereby prejudicing defendant and ambushing defendant with an increased amount in controversy weeks before trial,” Winters wrote.

According to Roti-Dunnivant’s second amended complaint, she was at the O’Fallon Taco Bell restaurant on Dec. 15, 2019, when she allegedly fell on the front sidewalk near the entrance due to compacted snow and ice.

In a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant, Taco Bell explained that Roti-Dunnivant arrived at the restaurant with her husband, Rich, at 5:30 p.m. They allegedly entered the west entrance without issue while holding hands. When they exited the building, the plaintiff’s husband allegedly held the door open for her at the same entrance and she stepped outside.

She testified that when she left the building, she took two steps on the sidewalk and started to fall backwards. She allegedly caught herself and fell forward onto her left knee. She testified that she did not recall seeing ice, snow or ice melt on the sidewalk.

In her complaint, Roti-Dunnivant that snow and ice had accumulated on the sidewalk, which was allegedly packed down and then frozen. She claimed the condition “created an uneven, slick and treacherous surface.”

She claimed the defendant and its employees should have known of the sidewalk’s alleged dangerous condition. She also claimed the defendant failed to warn her of the condition by posting a notice, sign or safety cone.

Roti-Dunnivant’s husband allegedly returned to take a video within an hour after the fall, which depicts the area where his wife fell. After viewing the video, Roti-Dunnivant said she believes there may have been ice melt near the door on the sidewalk but not closer to the parking lot where she claimed snow and ice was compacted.

As a result of her fall, Roti-Dunnivant claimed she suffered injuries to her back and left knee, which required surgery by Bradley on Feb. 19, 2020. She claimed she has incurred medical expenses and will continue to experience pain and suffering due to her injuries.

In Taco Bell’s answer to the second amended complaint, it argued that Roti-Dunnivant recklessly caused her own injuries by failing to keep a careful lookout, failing to avoid an open and obvious condition and failing to take reasonable steps to protect herself.

The defendant also argued that Roti-Dunnivant failed to mitigate her damages by failing to seek or comply with medical help and instructions.

Taco Bell previously sought summary judgment against Roti-Dunnivant in February 2022, arguing that it did not owe her a duty in regards to the natural accumulation of snow and ice.

The defendant also argued that Roti-Dunnivant failed to provide evidence of the cause of her fall. The motion stated that the plaintiff did not see where she fell on the sidewalk and could not establish a link between the snow and ice and her actual fall.

“Plaintiff guesses several times in her deposition as to the cause of her fall but cannot point to the snow and ice on the sidewalk as the definitive cause of her fall,” the motion stated.

“If plaintiff fell on either the dry sidewalk or the natural accumulation of snow and ice, the end result is the same – defendant is not liable for plaintiff’s alleged injuries,” it continued.

Further, Taco Bell argued that Roti-Dunnivant could not establish that it failed to warn her of the icy condition.

Roti-Dunnivant allegedly testified that she saw a yellow caution sign inside the restaurant in the video her husband took shortly after her fall. She couldn’t recall if it was there at the time of the fall, but agreed that it was in the video afterwards.

This article was first published in Madison Record.

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