Torts I, Pages 245–247

Ortega v. Kmart Corp.

Supreme Court of California, 2001

Facts:

Plaintiff was shopping at defendant's store when he slipped on a puddle of milk by the refrigerators, suffering significant injuries to his knee. Plaintiff testified that he did not know anything about the milk or how long it had been there, but implied it was long enough to notice. Defendant's former store manager testified that employees are trained to look for and clean up spills. He said that employees typically would frequent that aisle every 15–30 minutes, yet admitted that it could have been as long as two hours and that the store did not keep any records of such things.

Procedural History:

Jury returned a verdict rewarding plaintiff $47,200. Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment.

Issue:

How long must a hazard be present for a business owner to become liable?

Plaintiff's Argument:

Defendant should have noticed and cleaned up the milk in a reasonable amount of time.

Rule:

The plaintiff has the burden of proving that a hazard existed long enough for the business owner to receive constructive notice.

Reasoning:

It is up to the jury to decide whether the plaintiff's evidence is sufficient to support the defendant getting notice. The jury in this case decided it was so without apparent error.

Holding:

No set time is set. It is up to the jury to decide to that the hazard existed long enough for the defendant to have constructive notice. Affirmed.

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