One Too Many Mudslides? Daiquiris Patron's Knowledge of Steep Step Leading to Restroom Does Not Necessarily Bar Her Ability to Recover Against Daiquiri Shop
While driving through Metairie one evening, Lenai Boye and her husband stopped at a local Daiquiris & Creams. While Mr. Boye ordered a drink, Ms. Boye went to the ladies’ room. There was a step at the threshold of the restroom, which Ms. Boye successfully navigated when she entered the facility. However, when she exited the restroom, Ms. Boye missed the step and fell, injuring her chin, jaw, and neck, and breaking her wrist.
Ms. Boye filed suit against Daiquiris for damages – Boye v. Daiquiris & Creams No. 3., Inc. In response, Daiquiris sought dismissal of the case via summary judgment, arguing that Ms. Boye could not recover as a matter of law because she had actual knowledge of the alleged dangerous condition – the step leading to the restroom – prior to the incident. This knowledge, according to Daiquiris, precluded Ms. Boye from claiming that the step presented an unreasonable risk of harm. Daiquiris also asserted that it had taken various safety measures to warn customers of the step, including posting “step up” and “step down” signs, putting lights in the area, and putting reflective tape on the steps. These facts were contested by Ms. Boye who presented contradictory testimony indicating that none of those measures was in effect at the time of her fall. After a hearing on the matter, the trial court granted summary judgment and dismissed Ms. Boye’s lawsuit. Ms. Boye appealed that decision.
On review, the court of appeals considered Ms. Boye’s claims pursuant to Louisiana Civil Code Articles 2317.1 and 2322. Louisiana Civil Code article 2322 provides that a building owner may be liable for damage caused by a vice or defect in the building only if (1) he knew about the defect, (2) he could have prevented the damage by using reasonable care, and (3) he failed to exercise such care. The appellate court noted that a condition in the building will be considered a defect only if it poses an unreasonable risk of harm. When determining whether a complained of condition presents an unreasonable risk of harm, courts weigh a variety of factors, including: (1) the claims and interests of the parties; (2) the probability that the risk will occur; (3) the severity of the consequences; (4) the burden of adequate precautions; (5) the individual and societal rights and obligations and stake; and (6) the social utility involved. Applying this analysis, the appellate court noted that the trial court only considered the issue of whether Ms. Boye’s safe entrance into the restroom precludes her claim and failed to consider other material facts relevant to a finding of unreasonable risk of harm. The appellate court then found that all of the facts and circumstances that bear upon liability, including lighting, signage, the utility and condition of the step at the time of the fall, were disputed and needed to be resolved at trial. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
Take-away: The mere fact that a person injured on the premises was aware of an allegedly dangerous condition prior to the incident does not, in and of itself, preclude the person from recovering against the building owner. All of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident must be considered in determining whether risks are unreasonable.
This article was co-authored by Ali Spindler, an associate at Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC.