In a recent appeal of an underlying premises liability lawsuit, a California court affirmed a judgment in favor of the owner of a winery after the injured plaintiff alleged she fell and suffered injuries. Noting that there is no bright line rule regarding whether a condition is dangerous or defective, the court stated that an alleged defect is not trivial if it would be sufficiently dangerous to a reasonably careful person.
In this case, plaintiff Lorna Good allegedly fell at a winery and suffered injuries, fracturing her foot and wrist. The winery was owned by OGB Partners, and Ms. Good had been to the location 10 to 12 times in the previous nine months. On a warm, clear evening, while watching a concert, Ms. Good fell while wearing four-inch stiletto heels.
Ms. Good brought a lawsuit against OGB for premises liability and general negligence. OGB moved for summary judgment, submitting photographs and contending that the patio had been well-lit on the night of the alleged accident. The trial court heard arguments on the summary judgment motions and ultimately granted the motion in favor of OGB. The court stated that summary judgment is to be granted when the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Defendants moving for summary judgment must show one or more elements of the plaintiff’s cause of action cannot be established, or there is a complete defense.
Here, as the plaintiff in a premises liability lawsuit, Ms. Good needed to prove a dangerous condition existed. A property owner has a duty to repair defects that are not minor but can avoid liability by showing an alleged defect is in fact minor. The “trivial defect doctrine” is not a defense set forth by the defendant, but an aspect of duty to be pled and proven by the plaintiff.
A trivial defect analysis has two steps. First, the court looks at the type and size of the defect. Second, the court considers other facts, such as weather, lighting, and the existence of other obstructions. An alleged defect that is plainly visible and avoided by others without injury can be an indication that the defect is trivial.
Turning to the evidence, the appellate court stated there was a large, flat concrete patio surrounding a long, raised fountain. Smooth and narrow seams broke up the patio into regular concrete rectangles. The patio did not have raised areas, cracks, or jagged edges. The appellate court stated the patio was in excellent condition and did not have defects typically complained of in dangerous conditions cases. The court stated that no reasonable person would find a dangerous condition at the winery patio.
The conditions surrounding the accident did not create a substantial risk of injury, according to the appellate court. The night was warm and clear. Ms. Good was very familiar with the area. Ms. Good did raise the issue of lighting conditions and stated that it was too dim. But the court stated that a photograph showed the lighting made the seams easily visible, and on the night of the accident there was a full moon. Furthermore, Ms. Good knew of the location of the seams in the patio, since she had been previous times. Finally, OGB had not received reports of falls on its patio.
The appellate court stated that Ms. Good suffered injuries because her footwear created a walking hazard on any patio with seams, even if those seams had been maintained in excellent condition. There was no tripping hazard posed by a height differential between adjoining slabs of material. The court stated that no California court has determined a seam between two even concrete slabs creates a dangerous condition or poses a genuine issue of dangerousness. Here, there was no evidence that the seam was a dangerous condition. The court affirmed the judgment.
The premises liability attorneys at Sharifi Firm help accident victims throughout Southern California. We are available for a free consultation. Contact our office at 1-866-422-7222.
More Blog Posts:
California Court of Appeal Finds Condition Outside Pacific Palisades Vons Market Not Dangerous, Plaintiff Not Entitled to Damages for Slip and Fall Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 11, 2016
California Court of Appeal Affirms Holding in Favor of City Because Minor Defect in Sidewalk was Trivial, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 15, 2016