A California Appeals Court Revives the Premises Liability Case of a Shopper Significantly Injured Inside a Warehouse Store
Slip-and-fall accidents may be the objects of many jokes in the popular media but, in real life, they often can (and do) cause very serious injuries. If you suffered substantial harm because someone else failed to deal appropriately with a hazard on their property, then you may be entitled to recover in a court of law. An experienced San Mateo premises liability
can help you analyze your case and determine the best strategy for you.
In any premises liability
case, one of the most fundamental things you have to prove is that the person (or entity) you sued had a duty to keep the property safe. A recent case from a California Court of Appeal offers a very helpful clarification about how far that duty extends in this state.
The accident that spawned this ruling was a slip-and-fall injury inside a San Diego
Costco store. The shopper, L.H., fell on a "slippery substance that she believed was liquid soap." The fall allegedly caused serious injuries, so the shopper sued.
The shopper sued not only the store but also an entity that ran food sample tables inside the warehouse store. The food sample company argued that it could not possibly be liable to the shopper. It based that argument on the terms of its contract with the warehouse store.
That agreement stated that the food sample company was only responsible for maintaining their tables and a "12-foot perimeter" around each of those tables. According to the company, the shopper's injury occurred more than 12 feet from the nearest of its tables.
Even if the company proved that the accident happened more than 12 feet from any of its tables, that still wouldn't defeat the shopper's premise liability lawsuit
, according to the Court of Appeal.
The Company's Duty Derived from Tort Law, Not Contract Law
The ruling, which is an important win for guests injured on the property of others (like shoppers inside stores,) makes a crucial distinction between contract law and tort law. ("Torts" is a legal word meaning various civil wrongs that cause injury and for which a court can assess liability, such as negligence).
Regardless of the contractual obligations, the food sample company accepted in its agreement with Costco, it had a broader common law duty under the tort law of negligence.
In California, the law says that "businesses have a common law duty of ordinary care to their customers that extends to every area of the store in which they are likely to shop." None of the contract's terms restricted or eliminated the sample company's common-law duty of reasonable care.
In the shopper's case, one of the sample company's workers twice walked past the spill that felled the shopper prior to the accident taking place. That worker later testified that food sample workers like herself "were expected to report spills even outside a 12-foot perimeter from their sample tables".
That meant the shopper had evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the sample company had "constructive knowledge" of the spill but failed to take appropriate action. That meant that the shopper was entitled to take her case to trial.
Accidents on private property due to hazardous conditions take place all too commonly. Even seemingly simple things like trip-and-fall and slip-and-fall accidents can cause major damage. When they do, the skilled San Mateo premises liability attorneys at Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos, LLP are here to help.
To set up a free consultation with one of our helpful attorneys and find out more about your case, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.