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Johnson v. Washington Gas Light Co.

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

February 12, 2015

VICTORIA JOHNSON, APPELLANT,
v.
WASHINGTON GAS LIGHT COMPANY, ET AL., APPELLEES

Submitted: October 1, 2014.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (10-CAB-3199). (Hon. Laura A. Cordero, Trial Judge).

Craig D. Miller for appellant.

Christopher R. Costabile for appellee.

Before GLICKMAN and EASTERLY, Associate Judges, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 1119

Glickman, Associate Judge :

This is an appeal from an award of summary judgment to the defendant in a personal injury action. When another motorist allegedly swerved to avoid an open utility hole in the middle of the road, she collided with appellant Victoria Johnson's car, causing a serious accident in which Johnson was injured. Johnson sued Washington Gas Light Company (hereinafter, " Washington Gas" ), alleging that the accident was caused by its negligent failure to replace the cover on the utility hole during recent maintenance. The Superior Court granted summary judgment to Washington Gas on the ground that Johnson had not put forth sufficient evidence to permit a jury reasonably to infer that Washington Gas was at fault. We disagree and reverse.

Page 1120

I.

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the trial court.[1] Under that standard, to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[2] " Once the movant has made a sufficient evidentiary showing to support the motion, the opposing party's response " must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" [3] The movant is entitled to summary judgment if the opposing party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her claim with respect to which she has the burden of proof.[4] However, in assessing whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact, the pleadings and probative evidentiary materials submitted on the motion must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party; [5] and so, on appeal, we will affirm an award of summary judgment " only if there is no genuine issue of material fact remaining after taking all inferences in favor of the non-moving party." [6] Thus, in a simple negligence case such as this one, summary judgment based on the perceived insufficiency of the plaintiff's proof of a material fact cannot stand if the proof is such that " reasonable jurors could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict." [7]

II.

Viewing the evidence presented to the trial court in the light most favorable to appellant, the pertinent facts are as follows: On July 17, 2007, Victoria Johnson was driving in the right lane on Alabama Avenue, S.E., when a car in the left lane, swerving to avoid an uncovered utility test station hole, struck her vehicle and pushed it into a utility pole. Johnson sustained a compound fracture of her leg and other bodily injuries.

A test station hole is similar to, but somewhat smaller than, a typical manhole. The one in this case was located in the middle of the road on Alabama Avenue near its intersection with 23rd Street, S.E. Johnson testified in her deposition that she had driven by it " at least twice a day" in the months preceding the accident, and she had seen what she described as " construction" and an uncovered test station hole in a rectangular depression at the test station site " at least a week" before the accident occurred. While the road work was in progress, the site was surrounded by cones and a barricade that effectively closed off the far-left lane and directed traffic into the rightmost lane. The work on the test station was no longer being performed at the time of the accident (and the cones and barricade were ...


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