A California jury awarded $1.81 million to a Los Angeles County resident who was injured when he slipped and fell on the floor of an AMC movie theater in Glendora, California.
We’ve all fallen at one time or another, but most of us don’t receive $1.81 million for our troubles. Let’s take a look at what makes this case different and what you need to prove to recover damages following a California slip and fall accident.
On October 30, 2016, Robert Carmack and his wife entered an AMC movie theater in Glendora to watch a matinee of The Accountant starring Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick.
In order to reach the ticket counter, customers had to walk through a path delineated by stanchions.
The path led customers over a slick terrazzo floor that quickly became wet as customers came in out of the rain.
AMC employees laid down two mats along the path, but they left a large gap between them.
When Robert walked between the two mats laid down by AMC employees, he slipped and fell on the wet floor. The fall resulted in serious neck, shoulder, and back injuries.
More specifically, Robert suffered a nerve injury at C5-6-7 that required a two-level fusion, a partial rotator cuff tear that developed to a full tear requiring arthroscopic surgery, and a temporary exacerbation of pre-existing back issues.
The lawsuit and trial
Robert Carmack sent AMC a demand letter asking for $849,000. AMC rejected the offer. Robert then lowered his demand to $450,000. AMC countered by offering $50,000.
When it became clear that the two sides could not reach an agreement, Robert filed a personal injury lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
The lawsuit alleged that AMC’s negligent actions in dealing with the wet floor caused Robert to slip and incur an injury.
"AMC essentially made its customers transit an unfinished bridge exposing them to a floor that was dangerously slippery when wet and they failed to take multiple, easy, cheap steps to prevent this serious incident," said Robert’s attorney.
In its defense, AMC argued that Robert tripped (not slipped) and that AMC wasn’t negligent because one mat was sufficient to negate the danger of any rain being tracked into the theater. What’s more, AMC argued that Robert didn’t actually suffer significant injuries, but rather all of his medical procedures were the result of pre-existing conditions.
On April 13, 2022, after a seven-day trial, a Long Beach jury awarded Robert $1.81 million.
The jury found that AMC was negligent in the management of its property. The jury also found that Robert was 25% at fault for the accident, and therefore, under California’s comparative fault rule, Robert’s monetary award was reduced to $1,357,500.
The breakdown of the award in Robert Carmack v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc. is as follows:
- Economic damages: $385,000 (future medical expenses)
- Non-economic damages: $550,000 (past non-economic damages) and $875,000 (future non-economic damages)
How to prove fault in a California slip and fall accident
To establish that a property owner is liable for the injuries you suffered in a slip and fall accident, you generally have to establish the elements of negligence:
- The property owner had a duty to protect you from harm,
- The property owner breached their duty to protect you from harm, and
- You were injured as a direct result of their breach.
The focus of slip and fall litigation is generally on the duty owed by the property owner.
In California, a property owner is typically required to:
- Use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition, and
- Use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could reasonably be expected to harm others.
Common defenses raised in slip and fall cases include:
- The dangerous condition was open and obvious (a condition is "open and obvious" if a reasonable person should have seen and avoided the condition).
- Misuse of the property led to the person's injury.
- The injured person was aware of the dangerous condition before they were hurt (for example, the person knew the floor was slippery).
- The injury was caused by a minor, trivial, or insignificant defect on the property (this is sometimes called the "trivial defect defense").
What if I’m partially at fault for my slip and fall?
California follows the comparative fault rule. Under this rule, a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault.
Common examples of circumstances in which a plaintiff may be found partially at fault include:
- The plaintiff was using their phone or otherwise distracted when they fell.
- The plaintiff was running when they fell.
- The plaintiff was wearing inappropriate footwear under the circumstances.
- The plaintiff was on a part of the premises where they weren’t allowed or where they weren’t expected to be when they fell.
- The plaintiff was intoxicated when they fell.