Warning signs don’t absolve spa from responsibility 

click to enlarge One Nob Hill spa is facing a legal challenge after a client slipped and hit her head near its pool.
  • One Nob Hill spa is facing a legal challenge after a client slipped and hit her head near its pool.

This week's article is concerned with consumer protection. But before beginning, I want to thank those who attended our free pregnancy-rights workshop this past Saturday at the Dolan Center for Civil Justice in our building on Market Street. The event was well-attended and I want to thank our employment department attorneys Michael DePaul, Ghazaleh Modarresi and Menaka Fernando for the many hours they put into preparing for and presenting the session. The feedback has been tremendous and we look forward to sponsoring other free legal-rights workshops in the near future. If you belong to an organization that could benefit from the seminar email me at chris@dolanlawfirm.com and perhaps we can schedule a repeat performance.

I also wanted to circle back to a recent article that questioned the safety of the new Levi's Stadium railing design. After the article was published and gained public attention, the 49ers' organization apparently took note. The team immediately responded, before the next game just two days later, by placing stickers on the glass that said "Caution do not lean, sit, or climb on barrier." While this effort is greatly appreciated, I posit that it will be inadequate to prevent tragedy.

After the article was published, a very learned architect contacted me and cited a provision of the California Building Code, Section 1024.14.2, which allows for reduced height when such a railing or guardrail would interfere with sightlines of adjacent seating. Its nice to know that, as I always expected, there are such learned readers of The San Francisco Examiner.

While the partition in the luxury seating area may strictly adhere to the Building Code, that does not necessarily mean that the venue would be free of liability for an injury from a fall given the forseeability of people tripping, backing up to take a selfie, moving out of the way of someone entering or exiting the railing or just being jostled off-balance while the crowd jumps to is feet after a 90 yard kickoff return to the end zone. I suggest that the risk of injury or death is so high that the venue should replace the glass with a taller system.

This week's article concerns a real case that we are handling at a renowned spa on Nob Hill. The spa has a lovely infinity pool overlooking the south side of The City. Patrons can relax in and around the pool where they can read, order from a spa menu and/or relax in the hot tub. Our client was a paying spa customer who was in the pool area for a dip in the pool and to enjoy the view with a glass of wine. After ordering the wine, she sat at a chair about 5 feet from the pool edge, removed her sandals and robe, and entered the pool using the ladder. Once the room service waiter appeared with her wine, he informed her that she would have to exit the pool to consume her drink, which was served in a lucite wine goblet.

As she exited the pool, using the pool side ladder, she stepped onto the pool deck and began walking to the chair to put on her robe and sandals. Within one or two steps her feet slipped on the wet pool deck and she landed violently on her head, suffering a skull fracture and other long-lasting injuries.

Due to the serious nature of her injuries, she sought legal assistance and, through the process of discovery, we have learned that there have been more than a dozen falls recorded on the pool deck over the last several years, including employees falling while wearing sneakers. Several of these falls have also resulted in serious injury and other lawsuits.

The spa contends that it is not responsible because it provides slippers to patrons and posts signs telling patrons to wear slippers at all times as the floors are slippery when wet. Arguing that the client should not have taken a step out of the pool without first putting on the sandals (even though she was walking several steps to her chair to do so), the spa has denied liability for the client's injuries despite its knowledge that people don't wear their slippers into the pool.

Our claim is that it is unreasonable to assume that a patron will wear their slippers into the pool and that it is reasonable to think that they will take off and put on their slippers at the nearby chairs.

If the case does not resolve, it will be for a jury to decide wether the spa's warnings were such that they had no duty to remove the known danger provided by the slippery surface and whether the client was negligent for not wearing her slippers into, or placing them on immediately as she exited, the pool. This is a very real-world example of where the warning by the 49ers may be headed if additional steps are not taken now, before tragedy strikes.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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