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Hope Medical Park Hospital v. Varner

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

February 13, 2019

HOPE MEDICAL PARK HOSPITAL D/B/A MEDICAL PARK DOCTORS GROUP APPELLANT
v.
CARRIE VARNER AND THOMAS VARNER APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE HEMPSTEAD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 29CV-11-128] HONORABLE DUNCAN CULPEPPER, JUDGE.

          Wright, Lindsey & Jenkins LLP, by: Gary D. Marts, Jr., and Carson Tucker, for appellant.

          Ray Law Firm, by: Michael D. Ray; and David C. Graham, for appellees.

          OPINION

          BART F. VIRDEN, JUDGE

         Appellant Hope Medical Park Hospital d/b/a Medical Park Doctors Group (Hope) appeals from a Hempstead County jury's verdict in favor of appellees Carrie and Thomas Varner on their negligence claim, which arose after Carrie fell and was injured on the hospital's grounds. Hope argues that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it owed Carrie no duty to warn her of a known danger. We reverse and dismiss.

         I. Procedural History

         In January 2012 the Varners filed an amended complaint against Hope and other defendants[1] alleging negligence, along with a derivative claim on behalf of Carrie's spouse, stemming from an incident that occurred on February 18, 2009. Carrie alleged that she had been walking between a parking lot and the hospital's entrance when she tripped over a tree root, fell, and sustained injuries to her head, left knee, right shoulder, and back.

         A jury trial was held on March 7 and 8, 2017. The jury returned a verdict for Carrie and Thomas and awarded damages of $350, 000 and $0, respectively. Hope filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, alternatively, a motion for a new trial. Following a hearing, both motions were denied. Hope appeals from the trial court's denial of its motion for directed verdict at trial and its subsequent motion for JNOV.

         II. Standard of Review

         Our standard of review of the denial of a motion for directed verdict is whether the jury's verdict is supported by substantial evidence. Med. Assurance Co., Inc. v. Castro, 2009 Ark. 93, 302 S.W.3d 592. Similarly, in reviewing the denial of a motion for JNOV, we will reverse only if there is no substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. Substantial evidence is that which goes beyond suspicion or conjecture and is sufficient to compel a conclusion one way or the other. Id. In determining whether there is substantial evidence, we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising therefrom in the light most favorable to the party on whose behalf judgment was entered. Id.

         III. Trial Testimony

         Carrie testified that she had worked as a nurse at the hospital in Hope for approximately fifteen years before the accident. She said that she had worked all three shifts at the hospital. She testified that there was a median with a tree in the middle of it located between a parking lot and the front entrance of the hospital. She said that she had been crossing the median off and on for fifteen years. According to Carrie, she was aware that there were tree roots in the median sticking up two to three inches from the ground.

         Carrie testified that she was at the hospital on February 18, 2009, to sit for a deposition. She said that she had parked near the median, walked across the median, and entered the hospital. In the front office, she briefly spoke with the secretary, and because she had time before the start of her deposition, she returned to her car to get some paperwork. She said that it was approximately 1:15 p.m. when she was walking back to her car. Carrie testified that she could see the tree roots on the day of the accident but recalled that it was "kinda shadowy" under the tree. Carrie testified, "I thought I was walking carefully, and next thing I knew I started stumbling. I had hit the root, and I couldn't regain my balance, and I just kept going head first kinda, and I hit the bumper of a Jeep." Carrie testified that she had been wearing nurse's shoes that day; she had not been in a hurry; and she did not have her phone with her. Carrie agreed on cross-examination that she thought she could avoid tripping on the tree roots if she was being careful and paying attention.

         According to Carrie, there were no signs directing foot traffic between the parking lot and the hospital. She said that walking across the median was the shortest route in that it was a direct path to the hospital's front entrance. Carrie said that she also crossed the median to avoid walking through traffic on each side of the median. She agreed ...


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