MARTIN v. ARAMARK SERVICES, INC.

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MARTIN v. ARAMARK SERVICES, INC.
2004 OK 38
92 P.3d 96
Case Number: 99878
Decided: 05/25/2004

THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA

CAROLINE MARTIN, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
ARAMARK SERVICES, INC., Defendant/Appellee.

ON CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS, DIVISION I;
APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY.

¶0 Appellant, Caroline Martin, filed suit against Aramark Services, Inc., for personal injuries she sustained after falling in a tunnel hallway which leads from Saint Anthony Hospital to the employee parking garage. At the time of appellant's fall, an Aramark employee was working in the tunnel stripping and waxing the floor. Appellee moved for summary judgment asserting it adequately warned appellant of the potentially dangerous condition on the tunnel hallway floor. The Honorable Noma Gurich, District Judge, granted appellee summary judgment. Appellant appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals, Division I, affirmed, concluding appellee satisfied its duty to warn appellant of a potentially dangerous condition on the floor. We previously granted appellant's petition for certiorari.

OPINION OF THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS, DIVISION I, VACATED;
SUMMARY JUDGMENT REVERSED.

John Mac Hayes, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for plaintiff/appellant, Caroline Martin.
Kevin R. Donelson, Fellers, Snider, Blankenship, Bailey & Tippens, P.C., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for defendant/appellee, Aramark Services, Inc.

BOUDREAU, J.

¶1 Appellant, Caroline Martin (Martin), appeals the district court's order granting Aramark Services, Inc.'s (Aramark) motion for summary judgment which the Court of Civil Appeals, Division I, affirmed. We reverse the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Aramark.

I.FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2 Martin filed suit against Aramark for injuries sustained as a result of falling in a tunnel hallway which leads from Saint Anthony Hospital, where she worked, to the employee parking garage. At the time of Martin's fall, an Aramark employee was working in the tunnel stripping and waxing the floor. Martin claimed that she fell because of Aramark's failure to adequately warn her of the dangerous condition existing on the tunnel floor.

¶3 Aramark filed a motion for summary judgment maintaining it took reasonable care in warning invitees, including Martin, of the potentially dangerous condition on the floor. The trial court granted Aramark's motion. Martin appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals, Division I, affirmed the summary judgment finding Aramark satisfied its duty to warn Martin of a potentially dangerous condition on the floor. We previously granted certiorari.

II.STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶4 Whether summary judgment was properly entered is a question of law which we review de novo. Manley v. Brown,

III.ANALYSIS

¶5 It is undisputed that Martin was an invitee.

¶6 The summary judgment record establishes that on the night Martin slipped and fell an Aramark employee was stripping and applying wax to one side of the tunnel floor which connected the hospital and employee parking garage. Since wax on a floor may not be readily observable, the condition presented by the floor was in the nature of a hidden danger and not one that was open and obvious. As a result, Aramark had a duty to warn Martin of the potentially dangerous condition. In that connection, it is undisputed that Aramark placed two parallel paths of rubber strips, leaving floor space between, on the side of the hallway which remained open for public passage. As a warning to the public of the slippery condition on the floor on the side closed for public passage, Aramark placed five yellow "wet floor" signs down the middle of the hallway to separate the side of the tunnel hallway open for public passage from the side that was closed. Although disputed by Martin, the employee stated in his deposition that he also closed the door leading to the side of the hallway that was closed for public passage. It is undisputed that immediately prior to Martin's fall, the employee was standing with a mop and yellow bucket on a rubber strip on the side of the hallway open to public passage.

¶7 In her response to Aramark's motion for summary judgment, Martin claimed that under the circumstances Aramark failed to adequately warn her of the dangerous condition posed by the tunnel floors. An invitor must give a warning that is adequate to enable an invitee to avoid harm. See Hull v. Oklahoma City Baseball Co.,

¶8 In support of her response, Martin presented excerpts from her deposition in which she testified that she entered the tunnel hallway on the side open for public passage walking on one path of the rubber strips that had been placed on the floor. As she entered, she observed an Aramark employee standing on one of the rubber strips holding a mop. Because the employee was obstructing her passage, Martin stepped off the rubber strip onto the floor between the strips and immediately fell.

¶9 In addition to her deposition testimony, Martin attached video taped photographs taken from a security camera moments before her fall. One of the photographs shows Bates standing on a rubber strip with a mop. In the photograph, Bates appears to be cleaning the floor between the two parallel paths of rubber strips. She also attached excerpts from Bates' deposition in which he testified that three different people fell in the tunnel hallway that evening all within a thirty to forty minute time frame.

¶10 Viewing the facts and all reasonable inferences arising therefrom in a light most favorable to the party resisting the motion, as we must do when reviewing the grant of a summary judgment, we find a genuine issue of material fact as to the adequacy of the warning provided by Aramark under the circumstances of this case. The evidentiary materials attached to the motion and response, and inferences drawn therefrom, could lead a rational fact finder to conclude the following. While stripping and waxing one side of the tunnel hallway, Aramark closed it for public passage. To assist the public in negotiating the tunnel hallway, Aramark placed two parallel paths of rubber strips, leaving floor space in between, on the side of the hallway that remained open for public passage. As a warning to the public of the slippery condition on the floor on the side closed for public passage, it placed five yellow "wet floor" signs down the middle of the hallway. However, in addition to stripping and waxing the side closed to the public, Aramark's employee either waxed or wet the floor between the parallel paths of rubber strips on the side open for public passage. As Martin proceeded down the tunnel hallway on a rubber strip, Aramark's employee obstructed her passage and forced her to step around him. As she placed her foot on the floor between the rubber strips, she fell.

¶11 In evaluating the evidentiary material attached to the motion and response, reasonable minds could differ as to whether the warnings were adequate to apprise Martin of the potentially dangerous condition on the hallway floor on the side open for public passage. While the warnings may have adequately conveyed the potentially dangerous condition on the hallway floor on the side closed for public passage, there is a material question of fact as to whether they adequately alerted Martin to the danger presented on the side of the hallway open for public passage. In addition, the fact that three people fell within a span of thirty to forty minutes that evening lends support to the notion that either the warnings were confusing or that the condition was so dangerous that the public could not avoid the harm even after receiving a warning.

¶12 The purpose of summary adjudications is not to substitute a trial by affidavit for one by jury, but rather to afford a method of summarily terminating a case when only questions of law remain. Bowers v. Wimberly,

¶13 Based on the evidentiary materials presented in connection with the summary judgment motion, we find reasonable minds could differ as to whether Aramark's warnings were adequate under the circumstances to alert Martin as to the potentially dangerous condition on the floor. The summary judgment motion offered by Aramark in this case falls short of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. The adequacy of Aramark's warning is a question of fact to be determined by the jury. Accordingly, the trial court erred when it entered summary judgment in favor of Aramark.

OPINION OF COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS, DIVISION I, VACATED;
SUMMARY JUDGMENT REVERSED.

ALL JUSTICES CONCUR

FOOTNOTES

1 An invitee is one who uses the premises of another for the purpose of a common interest and mutual advantage. Brown v. Nicholson, 1997 OK 32, ¶ 7, 935 P.2d 319, 321.