The Court of Appeals of Washington reviewed a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs in a recent premises liability case, Gould v. N. Kitsap Bus. Park Mgmt., LLC (Wash. Ct. App. Jan. 19, 2016). In Gould, the plaintiff was injured when she tripped over an unpainted wheel stop in a parking lot of a strip mall owned by the defendant. The plaintiff filed a personal injury action, alleging that the defendant was negligent because its wheel stop was not painted and did not contrast with the surrounding pavement. The trial court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, and the defendant appealed.
To establish a claim for negligence in Washington, the plaintiff must show the existence of a duty owed, a breach of that duty, a resulting injury, and proximate cause between the breach and the injury. In cases of premises liability, the legal duty owed to the plaintiff by a landowner depends on whether the plaintiff is a trespasser, licensee, or invitee. A business invitee is a person who is invited to enter the property for a purpose connected to business dealings with the landowner.
In Gould, the appeals court found that the trial court’s findings of fact supported the conclusion that the plaintiff was a business invitee, since she was visiting for a business purpose and made a purchase at one of the stores in the defendant’s strip mall. Under Washington law, a defendant is liable for harm caused to invitees by a condition on the land only if the defendant (1) knows or should have known of the condition, (2) should know that the condition involves an unreasonable risk of harm to invitees, (3) should expect that the invitee will not realize the danger, and (4) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.