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Washington State Supreme Court Expands Premises Liability Rules

By Pendergast Law on February 15, 2022

The Washington State Supreme Court has expanded the rules regarding premises liability in a decision in the case of Johnson vs the State of Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board. This court ruling expanded the liability of landowners regarding the legal concept of “reasonably foreseeable unsafe conditions.” Prior to the court decision, property owners had the duty to discover a dangerous condition and correct it within a reasonable amount of time.

The Story

In this case, Ms. Johnson slipped and fell in the entryway to the Washington State Liquor Control Board in June 2011 on a rainy day. When Ms. Johnson stepped off the mat at the store entry, she slipped and fell, and was injured. The clerk in the store, in court testimony, said he was not aware of any water or other hazard on the floor before Ms. Johnson fell. He had not placed the yellow “slippery when wet” sign at the entryway, which was ordinarily placed on rainy days, until after she fell.

“Actual Notice” and “Constructive Notice”

Discovering an unsafe condition and taking action to correct it, prior to the court ruling, involved “actual notice” or “constructive notice.” Actual notice refers to the property owner being aware of a hazard, and constructive notice refers to a hazardous condition that the property owner should have been aware of, after which they had the duty to perform repairs, safeguards, or warn visitors to the property. In some cases, if a danger was “reasonably foreseeable,” actual or constructive notice wasn’t necessary, but this was fairly limited in scope.

Reasonable Foreseeability and Personal Injury Claims

Reasonable foreseeability was not clearly outlined for properties other than self-service retail outlets, but this ruling creates a significant change in case law. The ruling by the Washington Supreme Court, in an appeal, essentially supported the fact that the liquor store owner should have acted to warn customers, as it was “reasonably foreseeable” that a rainy day would lead to wet, slippery floors, and the owner should have taken reasonable precautions to protect customers from harm.

The reasonably foreseeable exception in premises liability cases now reaches beyond just the self-service department areas of stores. A plaintiff now must only prove it is “reasonably foreseeable” that a dangerous condition could exist in a store, rather than proving that an actually dangerous condition existed. Retailers can now be held liable for the possibility that a dangerous condition existed that were reasonably foreseeable (such as a rainy day) and can be held liable, without the restriction that they needed actual or constructive knowledge of the condition – a big change, and a benefit for those who have sustained injuries in these circumstances.

Premises Liability Cases in Washington State

This ruling means that visitors to a property who sustain injuries due to a dangerous condition have a better chance of being able to recover compensation than they had in the past. If you were injured when visiting a store, ensure you have legal representation from a personal injury attorney who has a breadth of understanding of how this court ruling could affect a claim or lawsuit, and who will pursue full and fair compensation.

For a free case evaluation in a premises liability case, connect with Pendergast Law for a free case evaluation. We take on cases on a contingency fee basis. You can reach us locally at (425) 228-3860 and toll-free at (888) 228-3860.

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