Premises Liability: Three Cases All Landlords Should Know About
Author: Kevin Knight
This article will examine three recent jury verdicts in premises liability matters.
Shaw v Outback Steakhouse, Pinellas County Case No. 12-5561 (Judge Schafer 7/16/15):
Shaw sued Outback when he tripped and fell while walking down the steps. He claimed that there was a dangerous safety strip. He further stated that his heel caught on the quarter-inch raised safety strip that caused him to be propelled two steps into the parking lot.
Outback asserted that the steps were not dangerous and that the trip and fall resulted from Shaw drinking alcohol, taking pain medication and having pre existing vision issues. Outback offered the testimony of an expert who stated that the steps met all building code requirements and the strip was secure. Outback produced evidence that Shaw had taken Hydrocodone (a narcotic pain medication) and consumed four Jack Daniels before the fall. Further, Shaw had a prior history of vision problems, and was advised by his doctor to use caution while walking. Outback offered an expert toxicologist who opined that Shaw’s judgment and perception would have been impaired at the time of the fall.
As a result of his fall, Shaw sustained a left hip fracture as a result of the fall, necessitating surgery. The jury found no negligence on Outback’s part which was a legal cause of damage to Shaw.
Oppenheim vs. Nap, Inc„ d/b/a Scotti Auto Repair, Palm Beach County Case No. 14-2571 (Judge Jamie Goodman 8/19/15):
Oppenheim slipped and fell in Nap’s garage at its auto repair shop. She asserted that Nap’s was negligent in allowing a dangerous condition to exist on the floor. Nap denied all negligence, and argued that Oppenheim went beyond the area of invitation by walking into the garage work area.
Oppenheim was a 61-year-old female at the time of the fall. She dropped her car off at Nap’s business for repairs. She parked her car in front of the garage, walked into the work area, and slipped and fell.
Nap argued that Oppenheim ignored an obvious sign posted at the entry to the garage, which prohibited customers from entering the work area, and that there was no evidence of a dangerous condition on the floor. An eye witness stated that she did not see any foreign substance on the floor of the garage after Oppenheim fell.
Nap stated that Oppenheim had made an excellent recovery from her multiple fractures, and that she would not require future surgery if damages were awarded.
Oppenheim suffered a hip fracture, for which a complete hip replacement was performed. She also sustained a wrist fracture which necessitated surgery. There are were also recommendations for future surgery. Medical bills totaled approximately $90,000.
Oppenheim’s attorney asked the jury for a total damage award of $617,140.
Nap argued that it had a reasonable floor inspection and maintenance program in place at the time of the incident. Nap further argued that its policy was to clean spills immediately, but it had no notice of a spill at the time in question. Finally, Nap claimed that Oppenheim failed to watch where she was walking.
The jury found Nap 10% negligent and Oppenheim 90% comparatively negligent. Oppenheim was awarded $120,000 in gross damages, reduced to a net award of $12,000. The award included $90,000 in past medical expenses, and $30,000 in past pain and suffering but no future damages.
Dunlap v Ridley Park Swim Club, Delaware County PA Case No: 12-9105 (Judge James Proud 3/19/14):
Dunlap was a 70 year old female who was a business invitee at the Ridley Swim club. On the grounds of the Club there was a black locust tree which fell and struck Dunlap. Prior to trial, the owner of the property settled with Dunlap for $350,000. Dunlap continued on with her suit against the Club arguing that the club should have trimmed the branches and should have limited parking near the tree. The Club argued that the tree was visible and they were unaware of it presenting any issue or problem.
As a result of being hit by the tree, Dunlap fractured her hip and knee and had to have surgery.
The jury awarded Dunlap $750,000 against the Club. This was in addition to the $350,000 that Dunlap had recovered against the owner.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned by landlords reading about these three verdicts. Watch your steps. Watch your trees. Watch your slippery spots. In short, watch anything that you can repair, replace, fix or clean. Amen.