The Color Of Money

For over a hundred years, the extent of landlord liability has largely depended on the color of the literal or metaphorical banana peel.

Facts

The 1911 case of Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Company involved a woman, Helen Anjou, who slipped and fell on a banana peel that was “flattened down, and black in color. . .every bit of it was black, there wasn’t a particle of yellow.” That color becomes important when the court discusses its holding in the case.

The alleged negligent incident took place at the busy Dudley Street Terminal in south Boston. Apparently, Ms. Anjou was unsure which train to take, and a helpful employee led her across the station to the correct location. This fact also looms large.

During their sojourn, Ms. Anjou slipped and fell on the aforementioned banana peel. She sued the railroad for $1,250, a rather large sum of money at this time. She argued that the railroad breached its duty of reasonable care by not keeping dangerous foreign objects off the floor; the railroad countered that it had no knowledge of the defect and could therefore not be held responsible for damages.

Decision

Justice Arthur Rugg, who attended law school by day and worked alternatively as a waiter and teacher at night, concluded that the offending peel “had been upon the platform a considerable period of time, in such position that it would have been seen and removed by the employees of the defendant if they had performed their duty.”

One fact that swayed the court was that the employee had evidently just averted slipping on the peel himself as he was leading Mr. Anjou through the station, so the employer was certainly on notice of the defect. But the color of the peel was even more significant.

  • Black: The banana peel had been on the floor for some time, so someone should have seen and removed it. In other words, the landowner had constructive knowledge of the defect.
  • Yellow: The peel had just been dropped, and so the landowner could not have known that it was on the floor.
  • Brown: No pun intended, but a brown peel is in a gray area. Additional evidence is needed to determine how long the peel had been on the ground.

The court awarded Ms. Anjou her damages and court costs.

Proving Knowledge in a Landowner Liability Case

The standard of proof is based on probability, i.e., more likely than not.  Thus, the plaintiff must prove that, more likely than not, a certain fact is true or untrue. Such proof may be established by both direct and circumstantial evidence. In many cases, there is a smoking gun, like footage from a surveillance camera or a written entry on a maintenance log. In other cases, circumstantial evidence may suffice; for example, in many retail establishments, the employees routinely walk the aisles to determine if anything is amiss.

For prompt assistance with a slip-and-fall or other landowner liability case, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in Fayetteville. You have a limited amount of time to act – call the Wade Law Firm today.

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