This case involves a fatal slip and fall outside of a supermarket in Montana. For several months, employees at the supermarket had informed building managers that the gutter on the building had a large crack from which water was leaking. In spite of numerous complaints, the defendant, who was responsible for upkeep on the property, did nothing to rectify the issue. On an icy evening in March, a supermarket employee slipped on ice that was in an unlit area near the designated shopping cart return area. The employee was overweight and when she fell, she suffered a traumatic brain injury. She was rushed to the hospital and treated for 2 days before eventually succumbing to her injuries. It was alleged that the ice was caused by snow melting on the roof of the building that afternoon and then dripping out of the crack in the gutter which diverted water down the side of the building and then across the cart return area. An engineering expert with experience designing and implementing drainage systems was sought to discuss the potential hazards of a broken gutter.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What experience do you have designing and/or maintaining drainage systems on small buildings or houses?
- 2. Does a down-pipe with a leak typically pose as a safety hazard?
- 3. How quickly would you expect a leak to be repaired?
Expert Witness Response E-072387
I am a structural engineer with nearly 40 years of experience specializing in building investigations and expert reports relating to buildings. I have worked on a couple of fairly similar personal injury cases involving commercial building hazards, including a slip and fall that resulted in death. This is largely a maintenance issue – there was an obvious crack, so the downpipe should have been replaced. The building was not maintained properly. In this case, it’s mostly a matter of checking code requirements. In my current city of residence, we use the same code statewide, and it addresses these sorts of issues along with some local regulations. Wherever there are icicles during the day and the sun comes out, there will be puddles that can refreeze. It gets cold during Montana winters, so as an engineer I have to plan for those sorts of things when examining roofs, gutters, and buildings in general.