Law Review: Yellowjackets give rise to lawsuit
October 4, 2018
From time to time, year to year, we occasionally suffer from yellowjackets, especially when eating outside. They love meat. Yountville in the Napa area has its share of yellowjackets as you will see.
SWARMED ON GOLF COURSE
In July 2013, Carolyn Staats was taking a golf lesson, indeed taking her first shot on the fifth hole at Vintner's Golf Club. All of the sudden she was attacked by a swarm of yellowjackets, being stung over 50 times. She was given an epinephrine shot and quickly taken to a Napa hospital where as a paramedic later said "she was within 15 seconds of dying."
The attack left Staats highly allergic to yellowjacket stings and she now must be given three injections per month and carry multiple epinephrine pens.
The Vintner's Club had a pest-control company perform monthly inspections around the club's restaurant to control roaches, insects and ants, but had no particular yellowjacket or bee protocol. In fact, the club had no knowledge of any swarms or hives, only an occasional yellowjacket or bee.
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The day after the attack, employees conducted a thorough search around the fifth hole and after about 15 minutes found a difficult-to-see underground hole about 1½ inches wide covered with a lip of grass. About a dozen yellowjackets were flying around.
GOLFER V. CLUB (no pun intended)
Staats filed a lawsuit claiming the Vintner's Golf Club was negligent and did not protect her from swarming yellowjackets. The trial court ruled for the Club determining it was not responsible because of the club's "lack of knowledge of swarming yellowjackets or subterranean yellowjacket nests on the golf course fairway." Staats appealed.
REASONABLE CARE IS THE LAW
Civil Code section 1714 basically lays out the law when a property owner may be responsible for injuries to others. The statute "establishes the general duty of each person to exercise, in his or her activities, reasonable care for the safety of others." There is a duty to maintain your property "in a reasonably safe condition." If a dangerous condition exists, you must remedy it or give a warning to others. That sounds simple enough, but there are probably 10,000 or more cases interpreting those legal codes and obligations.
The First District Court of Appeal discussed the Historic Mission Inn case we wrote about a few months ago, where a black widow spider bit and seriously injured a restaurant patron. The Court concluded that restaurant owners "have a duty to exercise reasonable care in relation to black widow spiders posing a risk of injury to patrons on the restaurant premises."
In yet another case the court concluded that a homeowner was not liable to a guest who had contracted Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick on the homeowner's dog.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal followed the black widow spider decision concluding that the Vintner's Golf Club had a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to protect golf patrons against the risks of yellowjacket nests on their property. What steps the club should have taken are a factual issue which is best left to a judge or jury, not decided in a summary judgment action.
This Court of Appeal did not rule in favor of Staats, but allowed her to take her case forward. Staats must yet prove the club was negligent. Personally I think that will be difficult when the almost invisible yellowjacket nest was not known by the club nor would it likely have been discovered during a diligent search.
If yellowjackets are present on your business premises, take protective steps including notice to patrons.
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 email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com.
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