HOUSTON – On Oct. 2 the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling that granted summary judgment for Ikea Holdings US Inc., et al. after a woman was injured in a parking lot in 2013.
The Appellate Court ruled that appellant Patricia Zappa could have used an alternative route to avoid the condition that allegedly caused her to injure her knee, "we hold that the necessary-use exception does not apply and therefore the trial court did not err," the ruling states.
Justice Ken Wise authored the opinion. Justices John Donovan and Kevin Jewell concurred.
Zappa, filed an appeal after the 234th District Court in Harris County granted Ikea its motion for summary judgment. She said the lower court erred after she used evidence that the necessary-use exception (the idea that a plaintiff had no other option than to take the unsafe route) bars summary judgment.
The appeals court determined Ikea did its due diligence in proving Zappa had other routes she could have taken to prevent the dangerous condition, so the necessary-use exception argument doesn’t work.
During Zappa’s incident, she alleged she was leaving Ikea in Houston with a flatbed cart that carried her new items. Since Ikea had blockages around an exit that led to her car, Zappa took her items from her cart to her car by hand. She passed through small openings in the blockages.
During one of her back-and-forth trips, the ruling states Zappa’s leg got stuck between the blockages and fractured her knee. She sued Ikea in 2015 over allegations of negligence based on premises liability.
In the lower court, Ikea made it clear it didn’t have the responsibility of protecting Zappa because she was aware of the dangers of going back-and-forth between the barriers. The lower court agreed and granted the motion for summary judgment in 2017, dismissing Zappa’s case with prejudice. She then filed the current appeal.
The Appeals Court said while the owner of a premises typically has the responsibility to keep a safe environment and warn its patrons of any potential dangers, this doesn’t apply to a condition that is obviously dangerous, such as the barriers. The only exception is if it was absolutely necessary for the patron to use the dangerous premises and if the owner knew the patron couldn’t avoid the risks associated with using the unsafe option(s). That wasn’t the case with Ikea.
While Zappa provided evidence from photos of the barriers and how far apart they were, Ikea had documentation of its own. One was in the form of an affidavit from Edwin Vela, an interim safety and security co-worker at the Ikea location. He provided two pictures, one which showed a sliding gate on one of the barriers that could open, and give a large and safe exit area close to the store’s doorway.
While Zappa said a jury should be the one to decide, the Appeals Court stated, “the premises owner owes no duty to the invitee unless the necessary-use exception or another exception applies.”
It had already determined Zappa’s incident isn’t covered in this exception; especially because Zappa never testified against Vela’s photographs by saying the sliding gate was closed or that she didn’t have access to it or even see it. She even said she took a different route, other than the barriers, to get back into the store after her injury so she wouldn’t have to pass back through the blockages.
The appeals court reiterated Ikea didn’t have the responsibility of making it known that an obviously unsafe condition was dangerous, since she had an alternate route but chose not to take it.