Law Review: Restaurant liable for patron’s black widow bite? | SierraSun.com

Law Review: Restaurant liable for patron’s black widow bite?

Jim Porter
Law Review

Under the Health and Safety Code, restaurants are generally required to keep their premises free of vermin, including mice, rats and cockroaches. How about black widow spiders?

My last personal encounter with a black spider was in Sacramento when I was young, lighting one on fire with a match. Watching it explode. A practice I don't recommend — even for a numbskull kid.

LUNCH ON THE PATIO

Michele Coyle was dining with a friend on the patio of the historic Mission Inn in Riverside, California. She removed her over-blouse and placed it on a low cement wall, then put it back on, and afterwards "felt a sharp pain in her right shoulder blade, which began to spasm immediately."

The next morning, Coyle's arms, legs and "core area" were numb. She was hospitalized for six days with permanent spinal damages as the spider venom had reached her spinal fluid. Coyle does not have full function in her left hand and leg.

MISSION INN SUED

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Coyle sued the Mission Inn claiming it knew or should have known that spiders were prevalent in the outside patio area of its restaurant and was negligent in failing to warn patrons of the danger of spiders or taking steps to eliminate spiders, specifically black widows.

In fact, before the incident a couple of black widows had been seen on the Mission Inn property, which encapsulates an entire city block. Three more black widow sightings were made afterwards.

Mission Inn defended Coyle's claim arguing it had no knowledge of black widow spiders on its dining patio, and its pest control protocols exceeded industry standards, and the cost of exterminating black widows outweighs any potential benefit to its patrons.

The trial court ruled for Mission Inn. Coyle appealed to the Fourth Appellate Court of Appeal.

FORESEEABILITY AND MORAL BLAME

The Court of Appeal discussed the foreseeability of black widow bites after two black widows had been seen on the property, then discussed Mission Inn's "moral blame": "In regard to moral blame, the act of doing nothing, other then recording the spiders' presence, while one's restaurant is inhabited by black widow spiders thus exposing patrons to a risk of harm, is morally blameworthy because it is morally wrong to do nothing while exposing unknowing patrons to a risk of harm. In regard to preventing future harm, if restaurants have no liability for injuries caused by black widow spiders, then restaurants will have less incentive to protect patrons from the harm posed by the spiders."

RULING

The Court concluded Mission Inn had a duty to exercise reasonable care in relation to black widow spiders biting its patrons on the restaurant patio. Mission Inn may or may not have taken steps to protect from black widows, it being for the jury to listen to the evidence at trial to make that determination — and ultimately rule for either Coyle or Mission Inn.

The Court opened the door for Michele Coyle to take her case to a jury trial.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA's, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or http://www.portersimon.com.