3rd District Court of Appeal Rules Premises Liability Case Must Be Decided by Jury

Khorran v. Harbor Freight Tools USA, Inc. – June 27, 2018 | by Michael Levine

In a recent Third District Court of Appeal decision, the Court reiterated the need for juries to decide whether a property owner operated a business in an unsafe manner.

The plaintiff was shopping in a freight store perusing the shelves in a store aisle when a heavy metal hitch fell from an upper shelf. He suffered injuries as a result. The store denied any wrongdoing and stated that it was company policy to place heavier objects on lower shelves. The plaintiff, however, testified that he had seen large trailer hitches at least 8 or 9 feet from the ground and that it had struck him.

This is the classic "he-said-she-said" that we fight to have juries decide.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the store, ruling that the case could not go to the jury—effectively ending the plaintiff's case. Fortunately, the plaintiff appealed and the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the earlier decision, finding that whether the store was negligent must be decided at trial.

Why the Court of Appeals Reversed the Trial Court's Decision

The Court explained that property owners owe a duty of reasonable care to patrons of their businesses. In order to prevail in court, the injured party must prove that the owner had either actual or constructive knowledge, or notice, of the dangerous condition. As the Court in the Khorran case explained, one can prove constructive knowledge by showing that the dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that, had the owner exercised due care, he or she would have known of the condition and taken action to remedy it.

Additionally, property owners can be held responsible based upon "negligent mode of operation." Under that theory, if a business operates in a manner that creates a dangerous or unsafe condition, it can be held liable if someone gets hurt. In the Khorran case, there was testimony that several other hitches were being stored on high shelves and that sometimes the hitches had fallen causing dents in the floor. As a result, whether the store was liable for "negligent mode of operation" must also be decided by the jury.

At Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, we often represent people who were injured or killed as a result of dangerous property conditions. Our results include a $3.75 million settlement for a woman who became trapped on a rooftop deck when an elevator malfunctioned, forcing our client to use an escape ladder that was not built to code.

If you were hurt by the negligence of a business, landlord, or property management company, speak with us in a free consultation today: (305) 770-6335.