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
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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