Court of Appeals Reaffirms Principle that a Duty to Warn May Exist Where a Slip-and-Fall Danger Is Peculiarly Foreseeable to the Defendant

On April 14, 2016, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided Reeves v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, No. 15-CV-711, slip op. (D.C. Apr. 14, 2016) in which it considered whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant in a slip-and-fall case arising from a wet floor inside a metrorail station. Slip op. at 1-2, 16.

By way of background, the owner or occupier of a premises “has a duty to warn [of a dangerous condition] only when there is time to do so.” Id. at 9 (internal quotation marks omitted). “Moreover, there is no duty to warn when a danger is as well known to the plaintiff as it is to the defendant, but if a certain danger is peculiarly foreseeable to the defendant but not the plaintiff, there is a duty to warn.” Id. (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). “Further, knowledge of a dangerous condition implies not only that the condition is recognized, but also that the chances of harm and the gravity of the threatened harm are appreciated.” Id. (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted).

Applying these principles, the Court of Appeals reversed because it concluded that the plaintiff’s evidence was legally sufficient to show that the wet floor was a dangerous condition, that the defendant had notice that the floor was wet on the day of the incident, and that the dangerous condition was peculiarly foreseeable to the defendant. Id. at 11-15. In reaching this last conclusion, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the evidence was sufficient to show that the defendant “was in a better position to know” that the floors in certain metrorail stations were especially slippery because they had become worn down and smooth. Id. at 13-14.

For general background about premises liability claims in the District of Columbia, see Douglas C. Melcher, Tort Claims and Defenses in the District of Columbia § 13 (2014).