TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

CA: Duty, Breach, and Black Widows

Last Friday, the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District handed down a ruling in Coyle v. Historic Mission Inn Corp.  The short version of the case is that the court, reversing a trial court's grant of summary judgment, held that a restaurant owner has a duty of care to protect patrons from foreseeable black widow spider bites.  Such a holding should surprise no one.  The court differentiated between the elements of duty and breach:

If a restaurant were overrun with poisonous spiders, it would be shocking to say the restaurant had no duty whatsoever to protect patrons from the spiders. However, that is what happened in the trial court. The trial court concluded that a restaurant has no duty to use reasonable care in relation to black widow spiders. Because the trial court concluded there is no duty, the trial court created a categorical exception to the general rule that one must exercise due care. (See Cabral, supra, 51 Cal.4th at p. 777 [the exemption concerns the "entire category of negligent conduct"].) We cannot agree with such a conclusion.

It is possible that it will be found that the Mission Inn met its reasonable standard of care—that despite reasonable efforts being made, an accident occurred, which is relevant to breach. However, under the generalized foreseeability analysis that is relevant to duty, because it is reasonably foreseeable that the failure to take any action more than recording the presence of spiders could lead to harm, there is not a good reason in the foreseeability portion of the analysis to create an exception to the general rule that there is a duty to exercise reasonable care. (See Cabral, supra, 51 Cal.4th at p. 775 ["generalized sense of foreseeability pertinent to the duty question"].)

Thanks to Christopher Ng for the tip.

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