Good news for those of you who have slip and fall claims pending against a store or other business entity. Late last year, the California State Supreme Court unanimously decided that plaintiffs in these cases no longer need to prove the exact length of time a dangerous condition existed in order to prevail on their claim that the store owner did not ensure safety. The burden is now switched to the business owner. The Court decided that what is important here is what the evidence shows regarding the owner’s inspection of the premises, and if the premises were not inspected within a reasonable period of time, a jury can infer that the dangerous condition was on the floor long enough for the owner to have had a reasonable opportunity to discover it and do something about it.
This decision stemmed out of a jury verdict against K Mart, in which the plaintiff alleged he slipped in a puddle of milk at a K Mart in the city of Torrance, and injured his knee. At the trial of this matter, a store manager testifying on behalf of K Mart admitted that the puddle of milk in the aisle might have been on the floor for as long as two hours. K Mart employees testified that their training policies addressed the importance of patrolling aisles and cleaning that which are potential hazards; however, they may well not have done so in this case.
The key here is that at trial, neither side could prove how long the milk had been on the floor before the plaintiff slipped and fell. While that used to be something the plaintiff had to prove, this has now been shifted to the defendant.
The plaintiff was awarded $47,200.00. This ruling forces businesses to show that they have a reasonable policy for inspecting all areas of their store and making sure they are clean and safe. I applaud this ruling as it will hopefully have a positive impact on stores at which we shop. Rulings like this help to make a trip to the store safer for all of us. I guess when K Mart reorganizes and comes out of bankruptcy, instead of “Attention K Mart shoppers!” the new watchword will be “Attention K Mart employees!”
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org