Providing preferential seating to disabled customers is a great service most businesses provide. This also means that the wheelchairs, walkers, and other items the disabled customers must be stored in areas that provide a safe walking environment for other customers. The controversy surrounding where it is proper or improper to put these items was illustrated in a case where a Baton Rouge Casino was sued by a woman who tripped over the walker of a disabled customer. With the help of an excellent attorney, the Casino was able to prove it seated a disabled gentleman properly when the woman sued the casino after her fall.
73-year-old Elvera Willig was eating dinner a Baton Rouge Casino, the L’Auberge Casino & Hotel (“the Casino”) on New Year’s Day 2014. While making her 4th trip back from the buffet, she tripped and fell over an unidentified man’s walker that was slightly sticking into the pathway. As a result of the fall, Ms. Willig fractured her hip.
It was later determined that the unidentified man was directed to the seat by an employee of the Casino. Ms. Willig brought a lawsuit against the Casino. In the lawsuit, she claimed that the Casino was negligent and failed to protect guests; the Casino was negligent and sat the patron inappropriately close to the walkway; and the Casino negligently sat the unidentified man and his walker in a place where other customers could trip on the walker.
The Casino responded by filing a motion for summary judgement to dismiss the case and the Trial Court granted the motion. The Trial Court determined that Ms. Willig failed to provide any evidence that the Casino created an unreasonable risk of harm to Ms. Willig or that the Casino had any kind of notice about the dangers the walker created. She then appealed.
Summary judgment is granted in situations where there are no actual issues about the relevant facts in the case. La. C. C. P. art. 966 B(2). For a place of business to have liability for a slip and fall of a customer, there are three factors that must be met. La. R.S. 9:2800.6. First, the condition must have created an unreasonable risk of harm that was foreseeable. Second, the place of business either created, had actual notice, or had constructive notice of the dangerous condition. Third, the place of business failed to exercise the care that would be reasonably expected of it. If any of these three conditions are not met, the case fails. Moore v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 186 So.3d 135, 145 (La. Ct. App. 2015) .
The Appellate Court upheld the lower court’s decision. Several pieces of evidence were used to make this decision. First, surveillance video was used to view what actually happened. The Appellate Court found that while the wheels were slightly sticking out into the walkway, the video clearly showed dozens of people walk back and forth with no problems. In fact, Ms. Willig freely admitted the walkway was large enough for two people to walk next to each other and she had made the trip three previous times with no incident. This proved that the walker posed a very small risk of danger to customers. This meant that Ms. Willig still failed to provide any evidence to meet her burden to provide that the walker posed an unreasonable risk of harm. Further, the court determined that the value of escorting disabled customers to areas that minimize those customers distance to travel to the buffet was providing a greater benefit to customers than the small risk posed by a walker sticking out a small amount into a walkway.
Customers should have clear and safe walkways in whatever place of business they are in. However, this general rule is balanced against the need to make sure businesses do not have unlimited liability to customers for unfortunate accidents no one could have predicted. Ms. Willig’s fall over the wheels of the walker was proven to be one of the unfortunate situations as an accident no one could have predicted.
Additional Sources: ELVERA WILLIG V. PINNACLE ENTERTAINMENT, INC. D/B/A L’AUBERGE CASINO & HOTEL BATON ROUGE
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: John Trepel
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