An Escalating Need for Evidence
by Ron Davis
An elderly California woman will get a second chance to try to prove that an injury she sustained at a Los Angeles shopping center resulted from the center’s negligence.
The shopping center is Century Center Mall, and the woman’s injury occurred when she stepped onto an escalator to descend to a lower level of the center. That escalator is located in an outdoor section of the facility, and it was raining at the time she was shopping.
As she placed her left foot on the metal plate that leads onto the escalator, she lost her balance and began falling. Her left foot then became wedged into the left side of the escalator, and the moving escalator dragged her for several steps before it stopped. With help, she extricated her foot, but later claimed that the accident resulted in permanent damages to her left leg and that walking currently requires the use of a cane.
She sued the owners of Century Center Mall, arguing that the metal plate she stepped on to descend to the lower level of the center was “uncovered.” She added that there were no warning signs in the area, nor was there any sort of mat that could have prevented her from slipping on the escalator’s metal plate.
In fact, the center’s maintenance personnel routinely placed mats and safety cones at several locations of the center during rainy weather. And a maintenance supervisor said she saw mats lying on the escalator metal plates both where the woman fell and at the bottom of the escalator.
Moreover, a safety expert testified that even when wet, the metal plates of the escalator performed above the safety standards for traction and slip resistance. But another expert contended that the mats used by the center to improve footing on the escalator were not large enough to cover the metal plate and were therefore below the “standard of care.”
A California court concluded that the injured woman failed to present evidence “with respect to whether the area on which she fell was in a dangerous condition at the time of the accident and so would warrant a trial by jury.” The woman appealed.
A California appellate court reversed the lower court decision, explaining, “There are multiple questions of fact: (1) Was there a mat on the metal plate? (2) Would a mat have prevented the woman from slipping on the plate? (3) If there was a mat, was it large enough? While there may be additional issues, these suffice to require us to set aside the [lower court] judgment.” (Ball v. Westfield Corporation, Inc., 2007 WL 2355819 [Cal.App. 2 Dist.])
Decision: August 2007
Published: September 2007