Like all McDonald’s franchisees, the owners of the Waipouli McDonald’s in Kapaa, Kauai have a set of customer safety rules that they know they need to follow in order to keep their customers safe. Among the most basic of these rules is to place yellow warning signs around any floor that they are cleaning with detergent or soap to warn their customers so they do not slip on the slippery floor and get hurt. They are also required to have a maintenance schedule to avoid scheduled cleaning of the floors during times of heavy customer traffic, such as during peak breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours.
One morning in August 2011, the manager of the Waipouli McDonald’s directed her maintenance worker to degrease the set of concrete stairs leading to the restaurant’s main entrance/exit door during the breakfast rush. There were no warning cones were available to guard the area, as they were already in use in other locations in the restaurant.
While the maintenance worker was scrubbing the steps, a customer walked out of the main exit and took approximately two steps toward the concrete steps into the area where degreaser had been spread. When the customer’s feet hit the degreaser, they shot out from under him. He flew down the entire set of six steps, landing on his back and the bottom. It had been raining that morning, so the customer did not think twice about the stairs appearing damp. Only after he fell, when he felt soap on his hands, did the customer realize that the steps were being cleaned.
The customer’s doctors ultimately diagnosed him with two herniated discs from the fall. One disc, which was fully extruded, was operated on, but the operation did not provide lasting relief. The customer now suffers from constant pain and remains under the care of a pain management specialist.
The owner of the McDonald’s denied fault even though it clearly violated its customer safety rules. The customer hired Leavitt, Yamane & Soldner to assist him in getting the McDonald’s franchise to accept responsibility and a lawsuit was filed toward that goal. The McDonald’s franchise continued to deny liability throughout the lawsuit, leading to a trial before a jury in June 2016, almost five years after the customer had been injured. After a six-day trial, the jury found that the fair compensation for the customer’s injuries amounted to $1,000,000.00, which it reduced by 20% for comparative fault.
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