On March 10, 2020, Mark McGrath argued a premises liability case before the North Carolina Supreme Court. The case is Draughon v. Evening Star Holiness Church. McGrath, an attorney with the Raleigh office of Brent Adams & Associates, represents the Injured plaintiff in the case. The defendant is represented by Jason Partrick, a partner with the highly-regarded Raleigh defense firm of Yates McLamb & Weyrer.
The case involves a Dunn, North Carolina man who fell while using an exterior set of stairs at a church in Harnett County. An investigation conducted following the incident revealed that the top step of the stairs was higher than the others. An engineer retained by the plaintiff concluded that the non-conforming top step constituted a defective and dangerous condition which posed a trip hazard.
The trial court entered summary judgment (dismissal) against the plaintiff on the grounds that the non-conforming top step presented an open and obvious condition that the plaintiff should have recognized as a hazard.
The plaintiff appealed the decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In a divided opinion authored by Justice Inman, the Court of Appeals reversed dismissal of the case, finding that whether the top step was open and obvious was a question for the jury. Therefore, the Court held, summary judgment had been improperly granted. Justice Dillon dissented from the majority, finding that the condition was indeed open and obvious and that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law.
The defendant then appealed the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court, arguing that the dissent reached the correct conclusion.
Even for a seasoned litigator with nearly thirty years of practice under his belt, the experience was memorable for McGrath. “The dramatic setting, the seven robed judges, everything about the experience communicates a sense of importance. Standing at the podium, it is impossible not to feel that you are working in the big leagues.”
McGrath says that it is impossible to tell how the Justices will decide the case. “They all have pretty good poker faces,” he says. “I like our chances, but how the Court will decide is anybody’s guess.”
a decision from the High Court is expected later this year.