Woman can't sue in Kentucky over spilled butter

Jessica M. Karmasek Apr. 1, 2011, 10:00am


FRANKFORT, Ky. (Legal Newsline) - The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled last week that a woman who slipped while in line for a food buffet on a casino gambling boat cannot sue its owners.

The Court, in its March 24 opinion, reversed the decision of an lower appeals court. The court had determined that Caesars Riverboat Casino, LLC, and Harrah's Entertainment, Inc.'s contacts with Kentucky satisfied its long-arm statute and the federal due process requirements.

Caesars is based in Indiana, while Harrah's is headquartered in Delaware.

The two jointly operate a casino gambling boat docked on the northern shore of the Ohio River in Elizabeth, Ind., near Louisville, Ky. The boat's facilities include a casino, hotel, retail stores and several restaurants. Neither maintain an office or any business facilities in Kentucky.

Kentucky resident Carla Beach was a frequent patron of the casino boat and a holder of a "Total Rewards Gold Card."

Beach filed a complaint in Shelby Circuit Court alleging while she was in line for the casino buffet she "suddenly and without warning" slipped on butter that had been left on the floor. She claimed she fell "violently" to the floor, causing her to sustain serious injuries and damages.

Specifically, she alleged Caesars and Harrah's, as owners and operators, negligently:

- Failed to maintain the floor of the eating establishment in a reasonably safe condition;

- Allowed butter to come into contact with and remain on the floor of the eating establishment when they knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that the substance created an unreasonable risk of harm to customers;

- Failed to warn her of the danger presented by the presence of butter on the floor; and

- Failed to otherwise exercise due care with respect to the matter alleged in the complaint.

Caesars and Harrah's moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over them.

The circuit court agreed.

However, an appeals court determined the opposite.

It said that the "operative facts underlying (Appellee's) cause of action are clearly related to Caesars' contact within the state of Kentucky," and that there "can simply be no dispute that Caesars transacts substantial business in Kentucky and also maintains continuous and systematic contacts within Kentucky especially through the promotions, solicitations and inducement of Kentucky residents to utilize its facilities located a few feet from Kentucky's border."

The state's high court reversed the appeals court's decision and reinstated the circuit court's order.

Justice Daniel J. Venters, who authored the Court's 16-page unanimous opinion, concluded that personal jurisdiction over Caesars and Harrah's is not permitted under its long-arm statute because Beach's claim does not arise from any of the "activities, contacts, or circumstances" identified in the statute as "an essential predicate" for Kentucky's exercise of in personam jurisdiction over a nonresident.

The Court said the appeals court's link between the appellants' activities in Kentucky and Beach's slip and fall is "far too attenuated" to fit within the definition of "arising from."

"Appellee's presence at the Indiana Casino did not cause her injury. Her claim arises from the butter negligently left on the floor," the Court wrote.

"That Appellee might have not have been on the casino boat premises that day but for the allure of Appellants' promotional activities in Kentucky does not alter that fact."

Such reasoning is too subjective, the Court said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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