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Rug-peril ruling tossed on appeal

Case of woman who tripped sent back

A judge in St. Francis County was ordered Wednesday to take another look at the case of a woman who sued a Love's Travel Stop after she tripped and fell on a rolled-up rug near the store's entrance.

At issue is whether the rolled-up rug presented an "obvious" danger to the woman, who claimed in court filings that she could not look down to see the hazard as she was already in a neck brace.

A trio of Arkansas Court of Appeals judges, ruling Wednesday, reversed the lower-court judge. Circuit Judge Chalk Mitchell, who ruled in favor of the Love's store last year, found that the rug presented a clear danger for which the company was not liable.

The appeals court panel found that there wasn't enough evidence for Mitchell to reach his conclusion and sent the case back to his court for further proceedings.

According to court filings, Marla Shook injured her knee and needed surgery after she tripped over the rug on her way out of the Love's store on Interstate 40 in Palestine in 2011.

Shook never saw the rug in her way, her lawsuit claims.

The company, however, contended that Shook knew the rolled-up rug was there, as she had passed by it on her way into the store. Because it claims Shook was aware of the hazard, the company argued in court papers that it was not liable for what happened to her.

The company released tapes of what it described as "indisputable video evidence" that Shook altered her path on the way into the store because of the rug.

In response, Shook's lawyers wrote that the court would have to "read her mind" to know for a fact what Shook saw as she walked in. They also wrote that the full video, which was two hours long, shows several other customers tripping but not falling over the rug.

A spokesman with Love's corporate offices in Oklahoma declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. Shook's attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

"It is a quantum leap to assume that, because Mrs. Shook happened to miss tripping over the rug the first time she walked by it (while looking for the restroom) that she actually did see it so as to avoid it," Shook's lawyers wrote in a court brief.

Mitchell, the lower-court judge, also declined to force Love's to turn over an incident report that had been prepared by the store manager after Shook fell. The company claimed the report was a privileged work product related to the lawsuit.

The appeals court, in a unanimous opinion penned by Judge Mark Klappenbach, determined that Mitchell erred in both his decision not to compel the company to release the report and in summarily ruling on Love's favor.

NW News on 12/07/2017

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