Published on:

In Negligence Cases, Compliance With Statutes Does Not Mean That the Defendant Automatically Wins

In slip and fall cases, many hotels and casinos claim that their compliance with building codes relieves them from liability. However, compliance with statutes is clearly not dispositive on the issue of negligence.

In Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo, Inc. v. Western Farm Service, Inc., 190 Cal.App.4th 1502 (Cal.App.2010), a defendant claimed that compliance with statutes precluded a finding of liability against it. The Court rejected the argument and succinctly stated its rationale for doing so: “Compliance with the law does not necessarily prove that the defendant met that standard of care. Typically, compliance with the law “simply constitutes evidence for jury consideration with other facts and circumstances.” (Hernandez v. Badger Construction Equipment Co. (1994) 28 Cal.App.4th 1791, 1830-1831, 34 Cal.Rptr.2d 732.) The reason for that is that statutes and regulations “cannot take into account the particular concerns of individual cases. They aim at minimum standards but are not meant to establish the outer limits of the defendant’s safety responsibilities.” (1 Dobbs, The Law of Torts (2001) ยง 224, p. 573.) Thus, the deputy commissioner’s finding that defendant had complied with the law, even if final and on the merits, did not negate any element essential the proof of plaintiff’s negligence claim.” Id. at 1524-25. See also, Amos v. Alpha Property Management, 73 Cal.App.4th 895, 901 (Cal.App.1999) (“Defendants contend the fact the window in question met all applicable fire, building and safety codes establishes due care as a matter of law. There is no merit to this argument.”); Perrine v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., 186 Cal.App.2d 442 (Cal.App.1960) (“We are mindful that even though P. G. & E. complied with all applicable governmental safety regulations, this would not serve to absolve it from a charge of negligence”). The same rationale applies here in Las Vegas.

Building codes and state statutes have been specifically found to be “minimum ” efforts by many courts. See Meisner v. Patton Elec. Co., Inc., 781 F.Supp. 1432, 1443 (D.Neb.1990) (“ANSI standards are voluntary standards, and more importantly, minimum standards”); Anderson v. Hedstrom Corp., 76 F.Supp.2d 422, 450 (S.D.N.Y.1999)(concluding that the question of whether the ANSI or ASTM requirements constitute the industry standard and the question of whether the defendant’s compliance or lack of compliance with the appropriate standard, when considered with other facts and circumstances of the case, should result in liability should be left to the jury).

Other state courts agree that statutes provide only minimum standards. Tufariello v. Long Island R. Co., 458 F.3d 80, 91 (2d Cir.2006) (“Compliance with OSHA standards … has been held not to be a defense to state tort or criminal liability.”) (quoting UAW v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 499 U.S. 187, 214, 111 S.Ct. 1196, 113 L.Ed.2d 158 (1991) (White, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment)); Sawyer v. Dreis & Krump Mfg., 67 N.Y.2d 328, 337, 502 N.Y.S.2d 696, 701, 493 N.E.2d 920, 925 (1986) (noting that industry standards are not dispositive in a negligence action and that the jury should have been instructed to consider industry standards along with all other evidence presented).

Negligence cases can be tricky. If you ever decide that suing is the only option left, feel free to give our office a call.