From the desk of Kyle Riley: In the event of a slip-and-fall case, the “self-service exception” only applies to specific areas where the hazardous condition and the self-service mode of operation are related.
Claims Pointer: Generally, a business owes a duty to protect its customers from hazardous conditions that it has actual or constructive notice of the hazardous condition. However, the “self-service exception” may eliminate the notice requirement to business owners if the customer is injured in a specific area that is related to the self-service operations of the business.
Gores v. Safeway, Inc., 69819-2-I, 2014 WL 866097 (Wash. Ct. App. Mar. 3, 2014)
Plaintiff Gores visited a Bellevue Safeway to buy a few grocery items. While walking down the store’s dairy aisle to pick up a carton of eggs, she slipped and fell, falling hard on both knees. While on the floor, she noticed puddles of a clear unknown liquid. Gores was able to stand up on her own. Gores picked up another item or two before heading to the check-out stand. There, she reported her fall and the clear liquid to a cashier who in turn summoned the store’s assistant manager. Gores told the assistant manager about the fall and exchanged contact information. Shortly thereafter, store personnel took photographs of the area where Gores fell, which documented an egg carton that was out of place.
After returning home, Gores knees began to hurt and Gores was diagnosed with a torn meniscus in both knees, requiring surgery. Gores sued Safeway for negligence, alleging that Safeway had the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect business invitees, such as Gores, from harm. Safeway moved for summary judgment based on the fact that it did not have actual or constructive notice of the hazardous condition and therefore was not negligent. The trial court granted Safeway’s motion. Gores appealed.
On appeal, Gores argued that the “self-service exception” applied. Under this exception, a plaintiff need not prove notice when the nature of the proprietors business and methods of operation are such that the existence of unsafe conditions on the premises is reasonably foreseeable. The rationale for this rule is that when the operating methods of a business are such that dangerous conditions are continuous or easily foreseeable, the basis for the notice requirement is no longer present. The Court noted that the “self-service exception” is a narrow one, limited to specific unsafe conditions in specific areas that are inherent in the nature of self-service operations. The exception does not apply to the entire area of a store in which customers serve themselves; there must be a relation between the hazardous condition and the business’ self-service mode of operation.
In its analysis, the Court distinguished this case from that of O’Donnel v. Zupan Enter., 107 Wn. App. 854, 28 P.3d 799 (2001). In O’Donnel, the Court applied the “self-service exception” to excuse a plaintiff from proving that the grocery store where she slipped had knowledge of the hazardous condition that led to her injury. In that case, the plaintiff slipped and fell on a piece of produce that was on the floor in a check-out aisle. There was evidence that it is not unusual for such items to fall on the floor while customers unload their carts onto the conveyor belt at the check-out stand. In this matter, there was no evidence that there is risk that when customers inspect eggs, it creates a risk that eggs will fall on the floor and break. The Court reasoned that if this were true, as Gores proposes, then the “self-service exception” would apply in every slip-and-fall case because it is foreseeable that people drop things. The Court distinguished the dairy aisle where customers may pick up egg cartons from a self-serve soup station where customers would fill their own bowl with soup. The Court affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment to Safeway.
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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