Lake Charles casino slip-and-fall showcases negligence analysis
When New Orleans residents go into a business, they expect that the premises are safe. Most of the time businesses are. But when business owners and their employees fail to maintain safety, serious injuries can result. A recent case from the Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit shows how these instances play out in court.
The case arose from a slip-and-fall incident at a casino restaurant in Lake Charles. Butter was spilled on the floor near the buffet and, after being notified, an employee mopped the floor and put up a wet floor sign. Minutes later, a casino patron went to the buffet, slipped on the wet floor and wound up with a cracked patella and a torn meniscus. The trial court awarded the injured plaintiff over $20,000 in damages.
The appellate review of this case illustrates how negligence is analyzed in a slip-and-fall case. The first step in reviewing such cases is to turn to the relevant statutory language. Here, the Louisiana Merchant Liability Act applies. This law establishes a merchant’s duty to maintain his premises in a reasonably safe condition. Additionally, the Act lays out the elements a plaintiff must prove to succeed on such a claim.
First, a plaintiff must show that he was legally on the premises. In most cases, this element is easily satisfied as business by their nature invite the public onto their premises. Second, a plaintiff must prove that the condition of the premises created an unreasonable risk of harm that was reasonably foreseeable. At a restaurant, for example, it is foreseeable that liquid will be spilled and that they pose a risk to patrons.
Third, it must be shown that the merchant created or had constructive notice of the condition. This element can be satisfied by proving that an employee created the condition or by establishing that an employee had been told of the dangerous condition.
Lastly, a plaintiff must establish that the merchant failed to exercise reasonable care. This includes failing to clean up the spill, failing to put patrons on notice of the condition, and completely ignoring the situation.
The court in the Lake Charles casino case found all of these elements to be satisfied. The casino employee created and was well aware of the wet floor and its dangers (he put up a wet floor sign). Additionally, the court found that the casino failed to exercise reasonable care because, though the butter spill was only over a one foot area, the floor was mopped in an area measuring between five and ten feet. Therefore, the wet floor sign was inadequate considering the size of the danger and was not reasonable care in providing patrons with appropriate notice of the risk.
In negligence cases courts also look to comparative negligence. Under this legal theory, courts can allocate damages in accordance with the allocation of fault. This means that the plaintiff’s recovery can be reduced in proportion to his own responsibility for the accident. In the Lake Charles casino case, for example, the plaintiff had been drinking prior to his fall. The court saw this as an impairment of the plaintiff’s ability to ascertain the risk of a wet floor and therefore found him 20% responsible for the accident. His award was reduced correspondingly.
Slip-and-fall cases happen more often than business patrons care to think. The battle over negligence damages can be brutal, with abundant finger-pointing for the blame. A competent attorney can fight to minimize or eliminate allocated fault. Yet, because of the complexities involved, these issues are best suited for an attorney experienced in negligence claims. If you are involved in a slip-and-fall incident do not hesitate to contact the Berniard Law Firm.