On Dec. 14, 2016, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Rosa B. Camacho v Commonwealth Health Center & Department of Public Health, 2016 MP 14. The High Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment finding the Commonwealth Health Center negligent and awarding Rosa Camacho $100,000 in damages.
In May 2007, Camacho slipped and fell at CHC. Camacho alleged that the slip was due to water on the floor caused by CHC’s negligent handling of a leaking water pipe. Following a bench trial, but before a judgment was issued, the sitting judge left the bench and a successor judge was appointed. The successor judge found that CHC violated its duty of care and awarded Camacho $100,000 in damages.
CHC appealed, arguing that the successor judge violated NMI Rule of Civil Procedure 63. CHC further asserted that the court applied the incorrect standard in determining whether CHC breached its duty of care to Camacho.
The Supreme Court first reviewed the Rule 63 requirements. The High Court concluded that the successor judge certified his familiarity with the record, that parties waived their right to recall witnesses, and that the successor court was not otherwise required to recall witnesses.
The Supreme Court determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in the certification process, and did not err by failing to recall any witnesses.
The High Court then reviewed the standard of care the trial court applied to determine whether CHC had breached its duty of care. The High Court determined that pursuant to 7 CMC § 3401 the appropriate standard could be found in the Restatement (Second) of Torts. Under the Restatement (Second) of Torts, there are two distinct standards for the duty of care owed to invitees. In the case of hidden dangers, section 343 applies. In the case of known or obvious dangers, section 343A applies. The High Court concluded that the trial court erred by failing to establish which standard it relied on. However, the High Court considered the trial court’s factual findings, and found that while the trial court applied an inconsistent standard, had it applied the correct standard CHC would have been found liable. Accordingly, reversal was not warranted, and the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of Camacho.
The High Court’s full opinion is available at http://www.cnmilaw.org/supreme16.html.
For further information, contact the Supreme Court at 236-9800. (NMI Judiciary)