Ode to a Banana Peel: Landowner Liability
Although it is more than one hundred years old, a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court provides one of the clearest examples of negligence in a landowner liability case.
In Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Co., the claimant was waiting for a train at the crowded Dudley Street Terminal. After the crowd thinned a bit, she asked a railroad employee for directions to her train. As she walked, she slipped on a “dry and gritty” object that turned out to be a black banana peel. Witnesses testified that the offending peel was “flattened down, and black in color.” In fact, “every bit of it was black, there wasn’t a particle of yellow.” The court focused on this fact when resolving the dispute.
Ms. Anjou prevailed at trial, and the court awarded her $1,250 plus costs, which translates to over $35,000 today.
What does the color of a banana peel have to do with landowner liability? According to this case, and several other ones, the answer is “quite a bit.”
The landowner has a duty to make property safe for business invitees, including train passengers like Ms. Anjou, but that duty only applies to dangerous conditions that the landlord knows, or should know, exist. The court gave the following examples:
- Yellow Peel: The hazard just appeared, and the landowner probably did not know it existed, so there is no liability;
- Black Peel: Especially if the peel was “flattened down” without “a particle of yellow,” there is enough evidence to conclude that the danger occurred some time ago and the landowner had ample time to correct the problem; and
- Brown Peel: The jury can draw its own conclusions, based on other evidence, as to whether or not the landowner knew about the defect.
The court found the black peel to be a “menace to those rightfully walking upon it.”
In a slip-and-fall case, knowledge can be proved by circumstantial evidence, making these cases easier to prove. Furthermore, since these cases typically involve a fairly serious injury, juries are inclined to award high damages, especially in an egregious negligence case.
If you or a loved one was hurt in an accident that was someone else’s fault, contact an experienced New Braunfels personal injury attorney for a free consultation.