Recently, the California Appellate Court reversed a judgment in favor of a defendant hotel after a plaintiff sued the hotel for breaching their duty of care by setting up a stage in a way that created a dangerous gap and eventually led to her falling and injuring herself. In this California premises liability lawsuit, which alleged claims of negligence and premises liability, the court analyzed whether the defendant had met their burden on summary judgment. After analyzing the defendant’s supporting evidence, the court held that they had failed to carry their burden of showing that they had not breached their duty of care.
The plaintiff had attended a banquet at the defendant hotel, and while standing onstage, she stepped behind her and fell into a gap between the stage and the wall. The plaintiff suffered broken bones in her foot and ligament damage. In her legal claim against the hotel, she claimed that hotel employees were negligent in installing the stage and that the hotel breached its duty of care by failing to warn her of the dangerous condition.
After the defendant moved for summary judgment, they submitted the declaration of an architect who had been hired to evaluate whether the stage met safety standards. The hotel defendant also submitted declarations from employees who stated they had no notice of anyone falling from the back of the stage in previous events. In opposition, the plaintiff argued there remained triable issues of material fact as to whether there had been a dangerous condition by setting the stage on a diagonal and whether the hotel had breached its duty of care by failing to warn her of the dangers posed by falling.
In reviewing the motion for summary judgment, the court stated that they would determine whether there is no triable issue as to material fact. Here, once the defendant has moved for summary judgment and met their burden of showing that the plaintiff cannot show the elements of their cause of action, the plaintiff must show there is a triable issue of material fact as to their cause of action. A triable issue of material fact remains if the evidence allows a reasonable trier of fact to find the fact in favor of the party that opposes the motion.
Here, the plaintiff alleged negligence and premises liability, and she bore the burden of showing that the defendant had a duty to hotel guests to exercise reasonable care in keeping their premises safe and that they breached that duty and caused damages. The court stated that the lower court erred in granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because the defendant had not carried its burden to show it had not breached its duty of care.
In regard to the breached duty of care, the defendant argued that the stage met Cal-OSHA safety requirements. In fact, the court stated that the declaration on which the defendant relied had not shifted the burden to the plaintiff. The declaration had not opined that the placement of the stage satisfied industry standards. Nor did it declare that the gap created a dangerous situation. Since the declaration had not carried the defendant’s burden on summary judgment, the burden did not shift to the plaintiff.
The defendant had also moved for summary judgment on the ground that it had not known of the dangerous condition, so it did not have a duty to correct it or warn the plaintiff about it. The appellate court stated that the trial court found that the gap had been “open and obvious,” and while there may not have been prior similar incidents, such evidence is not sufficient to show the plaintiff could not prevail on the negligence action.
The court reversed the judgment in favor of the defendants, remanding to the trial court to vacate the order granting summary judgment.
The premises liability lawyers at Sharifi Firm represent injured individuals in their personal injury claims following an accident. Throughout Southern California, our clients have recovered maximum compensation for their harm. To speak with a skilled personal injury lawyer about your claim in a free consultation, call our office at 1-866-422-7222 or reach us online.
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California Court of Appeal Held County Not Entitled to Summary Judgment When Triable Issues Remain Regarding Cause for Tree Fall, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 17, 2017<