Picture this: you fell in a grocery store, at the fault of the store. The store denied fault, made up wild excuses…you took then to trial, and the Jury found in your favor and held the Store accountable. Yes!
But is this set in stone? Can a Judge take away your verdict, which probably took years to obtain?
The answer is “maybe”…as it so many times is with the law. And this 8/30/22 decision Perez v. Hibachi Buffet* gives guidance.
A brief recap is this: Plaintiff slips on liquid on the floor at this Buffet.
From the law presented at trial and through the litigation:
Plaintiff “slipped in a restaurant hallway on a liquid trail that was 10 feet by 10 inches, in a wide spatter pattern. In discovery, Buffet admitted its staff used this hallway to take dishes from the dining area to the kitchen. The jury heard this discovery admission, which is binding and cannot be controverted.”
“Workers used carts to bus tables and collected drinking cups containing liquid. The hallway’s hard tile surface was slippery when wet. The liquid trail began before the restrooms and continued past them.”
“Perez’s counsel argued to the jury that it was more likely than not that a restaurant employee spilled the liquid, which made the tile slippery and caused the fall.”
To which the Court says “Perez’s analysis made sense. It required an inference, but the inference was logical. Everyone agreed a trail of liquid in fact was on the hallway floor. It got there somehow. Perez’s suggestion fit common experience: more likely than not, it came from a restaurant employee who spilled liquid taking dirty dishes from the dining area to the kitchen.”
Buffet offered and argued something…um…different:
“It could have been from that little girl. It could have been somebody who didn’t make it to the restroom. It could have been a customer with a soda or—or a water. We don’t know.”
Regarding “that little girl”, in this appeal the Court says “[t]he ‘little girl’ explanation was baffling. Buffet did not explain it.” And ultimately the Court says “Buffet’s contrary explanations made little sense.”
The Jury finds Buffet liable. And Buffet files motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (a JNOV)and, in the alternative, was for a new trial. The Trial Court grants both these motions, and Plaintiff appeals.
“The rules which govern the disposition of a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, as in this case, are familiar. Such a motion may be granted only if a motion for a directed verdict should have been granted.” This is per a 1958 case Reynolds v. Willson**.
“A nonsuit may be granted only where, disregarding conflicting evidence on behalf of the defendants and giving to plaintiff’s evidence all the value to which it is legally entitled, therein indulging in every legitimate inference which may be drawn from that evidence, the result is a determination that there is no evidence of sufficient substantiality to support a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.” Id.
With a JNOV, the Court’s decision is “whether (disregarding all conflicting evidence favorable to the defendants), there is sufficient substantial evidence to support the verdict on any tenable theory of liability.”
California Code of Civil Procedure 629 also gives law regarding JNOVs and filing timelines.
This Court overturns the Trial Court’s ruling regarding the JNOV and holds favor of Plaintiff.
The Court also delivers this fun dig: “Spilling liquid on the floor is an everyday event. When the facts are this simple and the contest is between a reasonable explanation and no reasonable explanation, the reasonable explanation wins.”
*cited as 82 Cal.App.5th 812
**51 Cal.2d 94