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Washington Slip and Fall Claims Broadened as Reasonable Foreseeability Exception to Notice Requirement Applies to More Than Just ‘Self-Service Department’ Areas of Stores.

Posted by Amanda S. Holder | Jun 30, 2021 | 0 Comments

This dispute involved a slip and fall accident between Betsy Johnson and the State of Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board (“WSLCB”). Johnson fell in the entryway of a WSLCB tore on a wet and rainy day in June 2011. Traditionally, under Washington law, “[t]he plain tiff in a slip and fall case had the burden of establishing that the proprietor's negligence was a cause in fact of his or her injury by showing that the proprietor had constructive notice or actual notice of the specific dangerous condition.” Wiltse v. Albertson's Inc., 116 Wn.2d 452, 458, 459 805 P.2d 793 (1991). However, "[w]hen an invitee is injured at a self-service business, the traditional notice requirement is eliminated ‘when the nature of the proprietor's business and his methods of operation are such that the existence of unsafe conditions on the premises is reasonably foreseeable.'” Pimentel v. Roundup Co., 100 Wn.2d 39, 49-50, 666 P.2d 888 (1983).
 
In this case, the entryway was carpeted with an electronic door that had a rubber mat inside and outside the store. Once customers entered the store, they would walk across five to six feet of carpet then walk onto a rubber mat followed by a waxed linoleum floor. Johnson slipped and fell after stepping off the last rubber mat and onto the floor inside the entryway. At trial, the store clerk testified he was not aware of the presence of water or any other hazardous condition on the floor of the entryway before Johnson fell. He also had not seen any water on the floor in the spot where Johnson fell after she had fallen. Johnson testified she had not noticed any water on the mat or the floor before she fell, nor did she see any “mud, sand, dirt, or anything like that” on the floor before or after she fell.
 
After the close of Johnson's case, the State moved for a judgment as a matter of law under Washington Civil Rule 50, arguing in part that Johnson had not presented evidence the State had notice of an “unreasonably dangerous condition” in the store. The trial court denied the motion and the jury returned a verdict for Johnson. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision finding that the motion should have been granted and the claim dismissed because Johnson had not satisfied the notice requirement in a premises liability action. 
 
The Supreme Court of Washington held the reasonable foreseeability exception to the notice requirement established in Pimentel applies in this case and reversed and remanded to the Court of Appeals. As a result of this case, the reasonably foreseeable exception in premises liability cases has been expanded beyond just the “self-service department” areas of stores. This means plaintiffs essentially only have to show it is foreseeable that there could be dangerous conditions present in the store, not that there actually are dangerous conditions present in the store. If a plaintiff is injured, stores can now be held liable for the possibility that there could be dangerous conditions on their premises without actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition. 

About the Author

Amanda S. Holder

Amanda attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where she majored in Political Science and minored in History. She received her juris doctorate in 2018 from The Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia.    While studying at Emory, Amanda interned at the Federal District ...

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