Slip and fall cases can be challenging to prove in California. In many cases, defendants bring motions for summary judgment to get the case dismissed on the grounds that the plaintiff can’t prove crucial elements of notice or causation.
California Code of Civil Procedure § 437c read in relevant part, “Any party may move for summary judgment in any action or proceeding if it is contended that the action has no merit or that there is no defense to the action or proceeding…”
Essentially, if a motion for summary judgment is granted the trial court is dismissing the case and not allowing the parties to proceed in court. The trial court does not always make the final decisions on these types of issues. A party to an action can appeal or seek a ruling of a higher court, known as an appellate court.
A party to an action can appeal or seek a ruling of a higher court, known as an appellate court. For example a recent ruling by the The Court Of Appeal Of The State Of California Second Appellate District Division Five reversed a lower trial court’s ruling regarding a Motion For Summary Judgement. In Jacinto v. Caruso Management Company, the plaintiff sued a property management company for negligence and premises liability after tripping on a wheel stop concrete block in a disabled parking area next to the pedestrian walkway. The wheel stop was five inches high and painted blue with the words “CHASE” on it. The ramp next to it was made of white concrete, the pavement was black, and the accessible walkway was blue.
This ruling by this California appellate court is an unpublished opinion, meaning it is only binding on the case which they ruled. Although the ruling is unpublished, it does shed light on the summary judgement rules when applied to premises liability.
On the day of the plaintiff’s fall, her daughter parked to the left of the wheel stop. The plaintiff got out of the passenger side and walked into the bank, looking at the bank doors. When she came out of the bank, she walked down the ramp and tripped at the bottom of the ramp by the wheel stop.
The defendant argued that it owed her no duty because the hazard was open and obvious and because it didn’t know about the possible danger. It also argued that there was no triable issue of material fact about whether the wheel stop had caused the fall. In response, the plaintiff argued that the dangerousness and the open and obvious nature of the hazard as well as the defendant’s knowledge were triable issues of fact. She argued the wheel stop caused the fall.
The trial court granted summary judgment on the grounds there was no issue of fact as to causation. The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court explained that there were several disputed facts. For example, a state-licensed contractor submitted a declaration stating that the wheel stop was readily noted by an ordinary person, the plaintiff could have avoided it, and its placement didn’t violate any laws or regulations. The blue color was standard. A civil engineer retained by the plaintiff argued that the placement violated the ADA accessibility guidelines and the American Society of Testing and Materials‘ standard practice for safe walking conditions, among other things. He declared that the closeness of the blue walkway and wheel stop made it hard to see the wheel stop.
The appellate court explained that premises liability is a type of negligence. An owner of property in California owes a duty to use ordinary care in managing the property in order to avoid placing people at an unreasonable risk of harm. In this case, the defendant argued that it owed no legal duty to the plaintiff because it had no notice of the danger.
The court pointed out that the defendant inspected the lot twice a day, and the plaintiff’s expert had stated the wheel stop in the lot was a dangerous condition. Therefore, the defendant would have constructive notice, at least for purposes of a summary judgment motion. The appellate court also explained that the plaintiff’s expert had called the area visually confusing because of the blue paint. Since there was conflicting evidence, the defendant didn’t meet its burden on summary judgment of proving the plaintiff couldn’t satisfy the element of duty.
The appellate court also found the defendant’s causation arguments had no merit. A plaintiff needs to show a substantial link between an action or omission and her injury. However, whether the defendant’s actions actually caused the plaintiff’s injury is a factual question. The plaintiff had testified she either tripped or caught her foot on the wheel stop. The defendant tried to show an inconsistency in her testimony, but the appellate court found none. The order granting summary judgment was reversed.
If you’ve suffered injuries due to a slip and fall on somebody else’s Modesto property, The Bogan Law Firm, A Professional Corporation may be able to represent you in a premises liability lawsuit for damages. Contact us at (209) 565-3425 or via our online form.
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