Alcala v. Marriott Int'l, Inc.

Citation880 N.W.2d 699
Decision Date10 June 2016
Docket NumberNo. 14–1058.,14–1058.
PartiesBrenda J. ALCALA, Appellee, v. MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC. and Courtyard Management Corporation d/b/a Quad Cities Courtyard By Marriott, Appellants.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa

Mark McCormick of Belin McCormick, P.C., Des Moines, for appellants.

Michael K. Bush of Bush, Motto, Creen, Koury & Halligan, P.L.C., Davenport, for appellee.


, Justice.

We must decide whether a new trial is required in this premises liability action. Brenda Alcala, a business guest at the Courtyard by Marriott1 in Bettendorf, slipped and fell on its icy sidewalk, breaking her ankle. The jury found Marriott ninety-eight percent at fault and Alcala two percent at fault and awarded her damages of $1.2 million. The court of appeals concluded the district court's jury instructions were erroneous and ordered a new trial. The court of appeals held the district court abused its discretion by denying Marriott's requested jury instruction on the continuing-storm doctrine, erred by submitting a negligent-training theory without substantial evidence, and erroneously instructed the jury on private industry safety codes. One judge dissented in part, concluding the district court correctly declined to instruct on the continuing-storm doctrine based on the lack of evidence of the requisite storm. The dissent invited our court to clarify whether our standard of review for rulings declining requested instructions is for abuse of discretion or correction of errors at law. We granted Alcala's application for further review.

For the reasons explained below, we conclude a new trial is required. We hold that our standard of review for rulings denying a requested jury instruction is for correction of errors at law. We conclude the district court erred by submitting a negligent-training theory without evidence of the standard of care for training employees on deicing or breach of that standard. Because the jury returned a general verdict, a new trial is required. A new trial is also required because the district court, over conflicting expert testimony, erroneously instructed the jury that an icy walkway violated a private safety code governing slip-resistant construction materials. We decline to decide the applicability of the continuing-storm doctrine. On remand, the parties and district court may address whether the doctrine should be abandoned in light of our adoption of section 7 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts, Liability for Emotional and Physical Harm. We vacate the opinion of the court of appeals, reverse the district court judgment, and remand the case for a new trial consistent with this opinion.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Alcala, a software consultant, often traveled away from her Texas office and visited clients that were implementing new software. Alcala made these in-person visits so that she could assist clients with final tests and troubleshooting. On January 18, 2010, Alcala arrived in Bettendorf on one such business trip, intending to spend an entire workweek with the client before returning to Texas. She checked into the Courtyard by Marriott in Bettendorf, a few blocks from the office where Alcala would be working. Just before 8 a.m. on January 21, Alcala slipped and fell while exiting the hotel en route to her client's office, breaking her ankle.

In January 2012, Alcala filed suit against the defendants, alleging Marriott negligently caused her injuries because it allowed ice to accumulate on its outdoor walkways, failed to maintain safe premises, failed to properly train their employees responsible for addressing icy sidewalks, and failed to warn guests of the dangerous condition. The case proceeded to trial in February 2014.

A. The Weather. An official weather recap encompassing a broad thirteen-county portion of eastern and southeastern Iowa described “an ice storm over much of eastern Iowa ... with widespread ice accumulations of ¼ to ½ inch” that occurred on January 20. The recap did not mention anything about conditions in that thirteen-county area on January 21, the day Alcala fell.

Witnesses at trial testified about the weather on the morning of January 21. The Marriott restaurant employee who attended to Alcala immediately after her fall testified “it was bad that morning” but stated she had no difficulty entering the building when she arrived for her shift at 5:15 a.m. and it was not raining or misting at the time Alcala fell nearly three hours later. The employee staffing the front desk recalled no mist at the time Alcala fell. The hotel manager on duty at the time stated, “It was very gray, and I know there was a lot of moisture.” One of the paramedics who responded to the 911 call acknowledged “it was rough conditions out.” The other paramedic confirmed “there was some bad weather,” “it was quite icy,” and [t]here had been an ice storm” but could not remember precise details. The on-call physician who treated Alcala at the hospital after her fall explained that on his morning commute, sidewalks and roads were slick and icy and “there were accidents all over town.” Alcala's contact with her Bettendorf client testified “the weather conditions were not good” and affirmed “everyone in the Quad Cities was dealing with the effects of th[e] storm that morning.”

When asked if she recalled the weather on January 21, Alcala's client contact testified, We had some freezing rain” without quantifying the precipitation or specifying when it occurred in relation to Alcala's injury. A paramedic testified generally that [t]here was a storm that morning.” A restaurant employee testified, [W]e had just had, like, one of those freak ice storm things.” However, she further testified she “believe[d] the freak ice storm went “into the morning hours as well.” She acknowledged that “the weather may have been kind of waxing and waning that morning, as it often does during storms.” Marriott witness Margaret DePaepe, the maintenance employee responsible for exterior walkways during the overnight shift, testified that whatever precipitation occurred “was slowing down” when her shift ended around 6 a.m. on January 21 and that any precipitation “had pretty much stopped” by 5:40 a.m.

Certified weather records from the National Climatic Data Center show mist and freezing rain at the Quad City International Airport in nearby Moline, Illinois—about eight miles south of the Marriott—beginning on the morning of January 20. The records show freezing rain last fell at the airport around 6 p.m. that day, while mist was virtually continuous throughout the day and into the night. About half an inch of precipitation accumulated that day, with only trace amounts accruing after 3 p.m. and the last trace accumulating no later than 7 p.m. Mist continued overnight and into the morning of January 21, ending around noon. However, there were no new accumulations, even in trace amounts. Ambient temperatures fluctuated slightly, reaching thirty-four degrees Fahrenheit by 2:15 a.m. on January 21 but decreasing to thirty-two degrees by 7:52 a.m. Overall data shows 0.53 inches of precipitation accumulating on January 20, with no accumulation after 7 p.m. on that day or at any point on January 21.2

Data from the Davenport Municipal Airport, about eight miles northwest of the Marriott, provides less detail. Unlike the Moline data, the Davenport data does not display a log of observations by hour. Rather, it is a daily summary. On January 20, the Davenport data reflects 0.32 inches of precipitation with “fog or mist” and “freezing rain or drizzle.” On January 21, it reflects trace amounts of precipitation, the same two conditions and an additional condition of “smoke or haze”—but because the data is a twenty-four-hour summary, it contains no specific timeline for these observations.

B. Training of Marriott Employees. No witness testified as to the standard of practice for training employees on deicing walkways or what employees should be taught on that subject. DePaepe testified about her protocol for clearing ice and snow during a shift:

Q. Why don't you tell the jury what your procedures are for shoveling and salting throughout your shift. A. We just go outside and take a bucket of salt, and then we—take, at the time, a water thing.
Q. Like a pitcher, a scooper? A. It was a water pitcher. And we just sprinkled it everywhere that we could possibly find the ice.
Q. Okay. Now, if there's snow or if there's ice, as it's falling, do you just do the sprinkling, or do you shovel as well? A. We shovel as best we could.
Q. And when you do shovel, do you do that before or after the saltings? A. Before, and then we put the salt down.
Q. So you try to get as much stuff out of the way and then you sprinkle salt on it? A. Yes.
Q. When you're out there salting throughout the night, are you checking your own work? Are you walking over the areas that you're salting? A. We check our own work.
Q. Okay. So you're sprinkling and you're walking behind it; is that right? A. Yes.
Q. Now, what if you're walking, walking as you're sprinkling, walking back to put your salt and materials back in the shed, what if you notice a slick spot? A. Then we put more ... salt and we take care of that spot as soon as possible.
Q. So you have a standard operating procedure of going out at least three times in your shift and walking the premises and inspecting and shoveling and salting if necessary. A. Yes.

DePaepe added that no supervisor ever told her to limit the quantities of deicer used on exterior walkways.

On cross-examination, DePaepe elaborated on the extent of her training on snow and ice removal techniques:

Q. When you were trained by Marriott, did you have an understanding that if people did not properly attend to the outside sidewalk, if there was, say, an ice storm and the sidewalk became slippery, that it could become dangerous for people to walk on it? A. Yes.
Q. You were trained about that? A. Yes.
Q. That was important to you? A. Yes.
Q. How long were

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