Starbucks Granted Dismissal in Phone Charger Trip/Fall Case

In Chaney v. Starbucks Corporation, 2015 WL 3883251 (SDNY June 23, 2015), a trip-and-fall case, the Southern District of New York granted Starbucks’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the case.

The facts, from the opinion:

On August 9, 2013, plaintiff John Chaney went to a Starbucks café in the Bronx for lunch. Upon entry, he saw that a customer in the seating area had plugged a white electrical charger into an outlet. After buying lunch, Chaney sat down near that patron. When Chaney rose from his chair 20 minutes later, he stepped on the charger, causing him to fall and injure himself.

While “landowners owe people on their property a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances to maintain their property in a safe condition … a landowner has no duty to protect or warn against an open and obvious condition which, as a matter of law, is not inherently dangerous.”

The court held that Starbucks was entitled to dismissal, because the condition was “open and obvious” and not inherently dangerous.

Initially, it held that “the evidence uniformly supports that the relevant condition, the white charger square offset against the store’s orange-colored floor, was ‘open and obvious'” and that “[v]irtually any patron in Chaney’s position would have readily noticed the charger by making reasonable use of his senses, as there was a stark color contrast between the white charger and the orange tile floor.” The court also noted that the plaintiff acknowledged seeing the charger upon entering the property.

Next, in holding that the charger was not “inherently dangerous”, the court explained:

[Plaintiff] testified[ that] the charger was close to or alongside the wall in the customer seating area, and area where customers, seated at tables, may plug in such devices.

The charger was thus in a position on the floor where a customer would reasonably expect to come across a charger, a point that Chaney himself acknowledged. Such chargers today are in fact ubiquitous in public places in this country, including in cafés, eateries, and other informal establishments like Starbucks that by design invite customers to sit and work on laptops or handheld devices while they drink, eat, or converse. The Court can fairly take judicial notice of this phenomenon. A customer in the seating area of such an establishment would have every reason to expect charger cords belonging to other customers to be in use, and potentially to rest on the floor. For that matter, such a customer would reasonably expect to find, on the floor of the seating area, any number of small personal items (e.g., purses, knapsacks, shopping bags, briefcases, food wrappers, coffee cups, etc.) that another customer may have carried in or bought at the café itself. And, as Chaney further acknowledged, he was not required to step in the charger’s path to exit the Starbucks location at issue; an alternative path around the charger was available. …

To permit a jury to find that the charger was inherently dangerous under these spare and unremarkable circumstances-where the charger was conspicuous against the store’s orange floor, and where no evidence of dangerousness has been elicited beyond the fact that the charger rested on a floor where it could potentially be stepped upon-would effectively permit a finding of inherent dangerousness as to virtually any readily visible item of personal property, food, or litter that a customer may have placed on the floor in the seating area of a café and on which a person could potentially trip. The Court declines to so find.

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