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Mission: Responsible (But Nor Much)
by Ron Davis
Blame for a slip-and-fall accident at a California shopping center has fallen mostly on the shoulders of the contractors that performed work on the sidewalk where the fall occurred.
The shopping center is Mission Valley Center in San Diego, and its owners have not emerged from the incident entirely blameless, however. A jury in the lawsuit resulting from the accident decided that they must pay 3 percent of the total negligence award of $880,000 to the victim.
Details of the case show that the accident occurred on a rainy day in March. The victim slipped on the wet concrete sidewalk just outside a Sport Chalet store that is a tenant of the center. That portion of the sidewalk had recently undergone a “renovation,” with Sport Chalet having hired the contractor, which, in turn, hired a subcontractor to handle the job. The shopping center’s owners, however, actually paid for the work.
The fall resulted in serious injuries to the victim. So he sued the shopping center’s owners, Sport Chalet, the contractor, and the subcontractor, claiming that they failed to test the slip resistance of the sidewalk after the restoration work was completed. Nor, he added, did they post caution signs to warn of a dangerous condition at that location.
In awarding the victim damages, a jury apportioned negligence as follows: 55 percent to the subcontractor, 37 percent to the contractor, 5 percent to Sport Chalet, and 3 percent to the shopping center’s owners.
The shopping center’s owners appealed that award, however, arguing that the accident site was not in a common area of the center but was included in Sport Chalet’s premises. Therefore, they added, Sport Chalet must protect them from lawsuit because the lease provides for such protection.
A California appellate court disagreed with the shopping center’s owners, explaining, “The accident occurred in a common area of the center. Moreover, the jury found the owners’ negligence was a cause of the accident. Under the lease, Sport Chalet has no liability if the shopping center’s owners’ negligence caused or contributed to the injury.”
Fortunately for the shopping center’s owners, the contract for the sidewalk restoration provided that the contractor would protect them from any claims arising from an accident that results from the work the contractor performs. (Mission Valley Partnership v. Sport Chalet, Inc. and Earl Corporation, 2003 WL 21321832 [Cal.App. 4 Dist.])
Decision: September 2003
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