The manager of a Burger King restaurant was walking through the parking lot of her store when she noticed a newspaper stuck underneath some bushes, about ten feet from the restaurant door. As she walked toward the bushes, intending to pick up the newspaper, she stepped off the sidewalk into a mulched area, where she tripped on a stump and injured her knee.
The manager filed suit against the maintenance company contracted by Burger King and the landscaping company contracted by the maintenance company, claiming negligence. Specifically it was alleged that these companies had negligently maintained the premises by allowing it to become hazardous and negligently failed to remove the debris that caused her injury.
The trial court dismissed the claim against the landscaping company, finding that the manager had not identified any duty that the company arguably breached. On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed, concluding that the scope of work provision of the landscaping contract specifically prohibited mulching. Therefore, the landscaping company had no reason to believe that stump removal was authorized, and thus it had no duty of care in that regard.
The court further noted that although the stump was a hidden danger, there was no evidence that either company had performed any mulching that resulted in the concealment of the stump, or had any responsibility for removing it. In addition, the manager took it upon herself in the course of her employment to inspect the landscaping work, yet had not observed any dangerous condition prior to her fall down.
This case demonstrates that a competent plaintiff’s attorney will conduct a thorough investigation to the end of establishing some breach of duty on the part of some financially responsible party,so that his client may be compensated. Just because someone is injured on commercial premises does not automatically mean that the victim will be paid by the owner for his injuries.