From the desk of Kyle Riley: A land possessor owes invitees the duty to take reasonable precautions to protect invitees against unreasonably dangerous conditions. When the premises contain a dangerous condition not caused by the land possessor, the possessor’s duty exists when the possessor receives actual or constructive notice of the condition. Constructive notice arises when the condition exists for such time as would have afforded the land owner a reasonable opportunity, in the exercise of ordinary care, to have made a proper inspection of the premises and have the danger removed.
Claims Pointer: A few hours may be insufficient for a premises owner to gain constructive knowledge of an unreasonably dangerous condition on the premises. This is particularly true when the condition is obstructed or hidden by another element, such as snow, and multiple persons encounter the condition without injury.
Biorn v. Kennewick Sch. Dist. No. 17, 2013 WL 6200117 (2013).
Jerelyn Biorn (“Biorn”) worked as a part-time para-educator at the Canyon View Elementary School in Kennewick. On January 5, 2009, Biorn saw snow accumulation outside, proceeded to the school, and parked in the staff parking lot. When Biorn arrived, she saw snow, but no ice. Biorn slipped and fell as she was exiting her car. The impact of her body against the ground brushed a layer of snow away, and revealed a slippery layer of ice beneath the snow. These layers formed when, around 2 a.m., Kennewick experienced rainfall followed by low temperatures and snowfall.
The school custodian began his duties according to the school district’s snow removal policy around 7 a.m., which included clearing the walkways and entry ways at each school. After 7 a.m., the custodian saw snow in the staff parking lot when he parked his vehicle. However, the staff parking lot never presented major concerns, and of the 65-70 employees who parked their vehicles there, the school district received no complaints.
Biorn sued the school district for negligence based on premises liability. The jury returned a defense verdict. Biorn brought a motion for judgment as a matter of law, which was denied. Biorn appealed. On appeal, Biorn argued that the trial court ignored evidence that the school district had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous ice beneath the snow in the staff parking lot.
The Washington Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err in denying Biorn’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. The court explained that a rational juror could conclude that the ice beneath the snow had not been called to the school district’s attention and knowledge, so the school district did not have constructive notice of the dangerous condition. The court also explained that a rational jury could reasonably conclude that the condition had not existed long enough for the school district to inspect the staff parking lot and remove the danger in the exercise of ordinary care.
The court also rejected Biorn’s argument that the trial court should have given the jury a specific instruction regarding constructive notice of a dangerous condition. The court explained that the trial court included the concept of constructive notice into the jury instructions, without using legal jargon.
Note: This opinion has not been published. It is provided to demonstrate how the court approaches the issues involved in the case.
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