John M. Kirby March 29, 2014

On December 18, 2012, the Court of Appeals held that customer who fell on the bottom step could sue the proprietor for inadequate lighting. The customer went to the defendant’s hair salon, and departed down a flight of stairs in the dark. She chose this path because the other exit required the use of a ramp, which was slippery. She missed the last step going down, and broke her ankle. The lower court dismissed the case.

The court of appeals noted that a landowner has a duty to take reasonable measures to keep the premises safe. This includes a duty to provide adequate lighting on stairs, even if the stairs are not otherwise defective. Becuase the plaintiff presented evidence that the stairs were very dark, she presented sufficient evidence that the defendant was negligent. Regarding the plaintiff’s contributory negligence, the court noted that she had not used this entrance in a while, and the court could not say as a matter of law that she was negligent in missing the last step. Further, her choice to depart using these steps was not negligent as a matter of law.

The case of Cone v. watson illustrates the importance of providing adequate lighting. It also addresses the issue of the plaintiff’s contributory negligence. Most of the cases acknowledge that the plaintiff is not contributorily negligent as a matter of law for taking a dangerous route, where there is some reasonable justification for doing so. For a case failing to employ this analysis and finding the plaintiff contributorily negligent as a matter of law, see James. v. Equity Residential Management (unpublished) (finding plaintiff contributorily negligent as a matter of law for using walkway to her apartment door, which was slippery when wet, even though she had no other reasonable means to enter apartment).