Generally, a property owner is liable for injuries to its customers only if it has actual or constructive notice of the hazardous condition that resulted in the injury. Washington law recognizes an exception, however, when the nature of the business and its operational methods make the existence of unsafe conditions reasonably foreseeable. This exception, set forth in Pimentel v. Roundup Company, is known as the Pimentel or self-service exception because it applies to self-service operations. “Self-service” simply means that the customers handle the goods and serve themselves.
There are three factors that must be met for the Pimentel exception to apply. First, the injury must occur in a self-service area. Second, the hazardous condition that caused the injury must also be in the self-service area. Finally, the businesss mode of operation must inherently create a hazardous condition that is reasonably foreseeable.
The Pimentel exception commonly arises in a slip and fall context. In a recent unpublished case, however, the Washington Court of Appeals applied it in an unusual context. In Craig v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the exception was applied when a man was bitten by a rattlesnake in a Wal-Mart garden center.