Earlier this week a California appellate court decided a case in which the issue of liability of a restaurant was called into question based on an alleged failure to act within one minute of a danger being created. In August of 2007, a boy vomited on a floor in the common area of a shopping center, 15 feet from the entrance to the restaurant. Less than one minute later, the plaintiffs slipped in the spill and fell. Restaurant employees immediately began taking measures to clean up the spill. One employee stationed near the front of the restaurant radioed management to inform them of the spill and then began walking toward it. The employee was somewhere between the front of the restaurant and the spill when the plaintiffs slipped, perhaps as close as two or three feet from them at the time of their fall. There was no evidence the employee noticed plaintiffs or had enough time to warn them. The assistant general manager arrived on the scene about 30 seconds after receiving the radio call, but the victims were already on the ground. After the slip and fall, restaurant employees cleaned up the spill with paper towels.
The appellate court, in affirming the trial court's decision against the plaintiffs, concluded that the law gives a landowner reasonable time to remedy or warn against the dangerous condition once it has been discovered. The court also acknowledged that negligence in slip-and-fall cases is founded upon the defendant's failure to exercise ordinary care in remedying the defect after he has discovered it. Many cases involve the question of whether a dangerous condition has existed long enough for a reasonably prudent person to have discovered it, and that is often a question of fact for the jury to decide. However, in the case above the court concluded that the defendant (restaurant) had actual knowledge of the spill immediately, and that the accident occurred less than a minute after the spill. According to the court, as a matter of law and based on the undisputed facts, the one minute was not enough time to remedy or warn the plaintiffs of the danger. In reaching this decision, the appellate court relied on a 60 year-old decision in which is was determined that a one and a half minute delay in remedying a dangerous condition (a banana peel on a supermarket floor) was insufficient for the market to be held liable. Girvetz v. Boys' Market, Inc. (1949) 91 Cal. App. 2d 827.
While the decision rendered this week by the Court of Appeals is not binding (since it was unpublished), it did make clear that trial courts are likely to follow the Girvetz case as it applies to the issue of timing. In short, an injured plaintiff must be able to show the dangerous condition existed for more than just a minute in most circumstances. In the majority of cases, the precise time at which a danger is created is unknown, and its length of existence must be proven by inference. In light of the decision above, and Girvetz, if the defense can show the danger existed for roughly one minute before an accident it is unlikely a court will even allow the case to be decided by a jury and will instead render its own judgment for the defendant.
Compensation for the victims of fall accidents, caused by another’s negligence, should be an important concern for all Californians. When a trip and fall occurs on someone else’s property because of the owner’s negligence, the owner should be held accountable. An Orange County injury lawyer with experience at handling such cases can make a fair assessment of these claims. Mr. Ralph has more than 19 years of experience handling personal injury cases, including just this type. He can be reached at 714-919-4415 for a FREE CONSULTATION.
Do you believe the "one minute rule" is fair?
- Nothing in this post is intended to suggest the Law Offices of Paul W. Ralph currently represents anyone involved in the news story above. This posting should not be construed as legal advice or an opinion on the merit of any particular matter. A consultation is the best way to obtain an assessment of your potential case.