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Law School Case Brief

Ortega v. Kmart Corp. - 26 Cal. 4th 1200, 114 Cal. Rptr. 2d 470, 36 P.3d 11 (2001)

Rule:

In order to establish liability on a negligence theory, a plaintiff must prove duty, breach, causation, and damages. A plaintiff meets the causation element by showing that: (1) the defendant's breach of its duty to exercise ordinary care was a substantial factor in bringing about plaintiff's harm; and (2) there is no rule of law relieving the defendant of liability. These are factual questions for the jury to decide, except in cases in which the facts as to causation are undisputed.

Facts:

A shopper slipped on a puddle of milk on the floor of defendant store and suffered significant injuries to his knee. The shopper sued the store for personal injuries. A jury entered a judgment in the shopper's favor, and the Superior Court awarded damages to the shopper. On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed. The store sought further review by the Supreme Court of California.

Issue:

Can the store be held liable for damages?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal's judgment. It held that: (1) evidence of the store's failure to inspect the premises within a reasonable period of time was sufficient to allow an inference that the condition was on the floor long enough to give the store owner the opportunity to discover and remedy it; (2) the shopper had the burden of producing evidence that the dangerous condition existed for at least a sufficient time to support a finding that the defendant had constructive notice of the hazardous condition; (3) the shopper could show that the store had constructive notice of the dangerous condition if the shopper could show that the site had not been inspected within a reasonable period of time so that a person exercising due care would have discovered and corrected the hazard; (4) if the shopper could show an inspection was not made within a particular period of time prior to an accident, the shopper could raise an inference the condition did exist long enough for the store to have discovered it; and (5) it was a question of fact for the jury whether the defective condition existed long enough so that it would have been discovered and remedied by the store in the exercise of reasonable care.

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