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Store owners shouldn’t cry over spilled milk, but rather clean it up right away. In a unanimous ruling Thursday, the California Supreme Court — in a case centered on a puddle of milk — concluded that store owners of all kinds can be held liable for dangerous conditions on their premises if they fail to clear up the hazard in a reasonable amount of time. Injured plaintiffs will carry the burden of proving store owners’ failure to act, the court held, and jurors will resolve disputes on the facts of individual cases. A premium will be placed on proper maintenance by storeowners, the court said. “The owner must inspect the premises or take other proper action to ascertain their condition,” Justice Ming Chin wrote, “and if, by the exercise of reasonable care the owner would have discovered the condition, he is liable for failing to correct it.” The suit had been filed by Richard Ortega, who injured one of his knees after he slipped on a puddle of milk in a Kmart store in Torrance, Calif. The case is Ortega v. Kmart Corp., 01 C.D.O.S. 10516. Joining in the unanimous vote were Third District Court of Appeal Justice Daniel Kolkey and Fourth District Justice Alex McDonald, sitting by assignment. Justice Joyce Kennard concurred separately to point out the similarities in Ortega and a May 31 case in which the high court ruled the opposite. Kennard had dissented in the earlier ruling, with the majority upholding summary judgment for an apartment building owner who had been sued by a Federal Express employee assaulted on his grounds. The FedEx worker contended that the property owner should have had better security. The case is Saelzler v. Advanced Group 400, 25 Cal.4th 763. “Here [in Ortega], I find the court’s reasoning sound and persuasive,” Kennard wrote in dissent Thursday. “In Saelzler … the court should have, but did not, apply the same reasoning to the very similar causation issue there presented.”

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