December 21, 2016

Washington Court of Appeals Issues Rattlesnake Ruling

A rattlesnake bit Mica Craig while he was shopping at a Walmart outdoor garden center in Clarkston, Washington.  Mr. Craig's subsequent lawsuit against Walmart was dismissed on summary judgment, and he appealed.  The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Mr. Craig in a recent unpublished opinion.  The Court held that Walmart created a risk of rattlesnake bites and that Walmart owed Mr. Craig a duty of reasonable care to prevent his injury.

The Court's decision is based on a pithy observation: "Rattlesnakes wander." The Court decided that "Walmart's choice to locate an outdoor garden center in its parking lot and adjacent to undeveloped land where rattlesnakes are known to live created a reasonably foreseeable hazard .... that its customers would interact with wandering rattlesnakes hiding among the dirt, plants, and other items for sale .... [and] be bitten by a rattlesnake."  As the Court observed in the concluding paragraph of its opinion: "Most businesses have walls and doors that generally prevent wild animals, including rattlesnakes, from entering." 

Community associations must take steps to ensure the safety of their common areas.  If they fail to do so, then civil liability can result.