Washington Court Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Premises Liability Case

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.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the wheel stops were an open and obvious condition, and that the plaintiff should have noticed them. In Washington, if an unsafe condition is both obvious and known to the plaintiff, the defendant does not owe a duty to warn of the condition. The appeals court, however, found that the record demonstrated that the condition was not known to the plaintiff, since the plaintiff had never been to that area of the parking lot before her fall, and she testified that she had not observed any obstruction on her pathway. In addition, the court found that the defendant had notice of the unsafe condition, since one of its employees had admitted to the plaintiff’s husband that she had tripped over the wheel stop in the past.

Accordingly, the appeals court held that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that the defendant breached the duty it owed to the plaintiff as an invitee because the evidence established that the camouflaged wheel stop constituted a dangerous condition that was known to the defendant, unknown to the plaintiff, and it involved an unreasonable risk of harm to invitees on the premises.

If you have been injured due to the negligent actions of another person or business, you may be able to seek compensation from the party responsible. The personal injury attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC provide experienced and trusted legal representation to accident victims in Washington. To discuss your claim with an experienced attorney, contact our office at (206) 622-6562 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Appeals Court Holds Denny’s Not Liable for Criminal Attack on Patron, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published October 21, 2015

Washington Court Reviews Expert Testimony of Industry Custom in Premises Liability Case, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published December 9, 2015

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