Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Recent Slip and Fall Cases of Note

Vazquez v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., PICS Case No. 10-2688 E.D. Pa. (August 5, 2010, Pollak, J.)

Wal-Mart’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff’s slip and fall Complaint was denied by Judge Pollak of the Eastern District Federal Court where Plaintiff offered sufficient evidence for a jury to define that Defendant created a dangerous condition that lead to the fall and/or had notice of it.

In this case, the Plaintiff slipped and fell on a puddle of liquid bubbles that a child had pulled on the floor in an area near the self-check out registers.

A Wal-Mart surveillance system video showed that an unsupervised child pulled the liquid out on the floor less than two minutes before the Plaintiff fell.

The Court noted that Wal-Mart had constructive notice of the danger because the child had interacted with an “impulse” display near the registered designed to entice children to pick up merchandise. The Court also noted that the video showed the child sliding around in the spill before the incident occurred such that the store could have had notice to clean up the area before the Plaintiff’s incident occurred.

Cater v. Starbucks Corp., PICS Case No. 10-2689 (E.D. Pa. August 10, 2010, Pollak, J.)

The Defendant Starbuck’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the Plaintiff’s slip and fall claim was denied by Judge Pollak of the Eastern District Federal Court because reasonable minds could differ on whether or not the Plaintiff had a reasonable alternative to patronizing the store and/or crossing the parking lot to help another injured patron who had previously slipped and fallen on ice.

At the time of the Plaintiff’s fall, the Plaintiff and her husband had stopped to help another patron who had slipped and fallen in the parking lot area. The Plaintiff fell when she went to retrieve items from the other patron’s car.

The Court rejected Starbuck’s argument that summary judgment was appropriate because the Plaintiff assumed the risk of falling on the icy parking lot and had safe alternative to crossing the lot, including the alternative of choosing not to go to the Starbuck’s store at all.

In this matter, the Court concluded that a jury could possibly find that the Plaintiff did not have any alternative to crossing the Starbuck’s parking lot. The Court noted that the reasonable minds could disagree on whether it is a viable alternative to stop frequenting business all together on days following winter storms. The judge also noted that reasonable minds could consider that the Plaintiff did not have any alternative but to help this injured person who had previously slipped and fallen in the parking lot.

Caucci v. Chelsea Pocono Holdings, LLC, PICS Case No. 10-2682 (Monroe Co.,
June 23, 2010, Miller, J.)

This case involves a slip and fall on a patch of ice in a parking lot at a shopping center. In this matter, the snow plow contractor filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that it did not have any duty to maintain the property in a safe condition. While Plaintiffs did not oppose this Motion, other Defendants did.

The facts revealed that the snow removal contractor entered into an agreement that it would not begin snow plowing or snow removal unless specifically requested to do so by the owners of the premises. Under the agreement, upon completion of the snow removal, the premises owner was to inspect the job completed. The facts also reveal that the Defendant snow removal contractor was not permitted to perform any snow removal operations without the explicit authorization of the owner of the premises.

In her decision, Monroe County Judge Linda Wallach Miller noted that 13 days had passed between the time the snow removal contractor was on site for snow removal and the time the Plaintiff fell.

The snow removal contractor argued that it did not have any duty to perform any ongoing maintenance under the contract. The snow removal contractor also asserted that they did not owe any duty to the Plaintiff at the time the Plaintiff fell.

The Defendant landowner contended that the snow removal contractor only performed spot checks upon completion of the its snow plowing and that the snow plow contractor failed to remove all of the snow as required by the agreement between the parties.

Judge Miller ruled that the landowner Defendants did not present any evidence that the Defendants owed a duty to the Plaintiff at the time of the incident. The Court noted that the landowner, and not the snow removal contractor, was primarily responsible for overseeing the snow removal on the property. Additionally, it was the landowner’s responsibility to inspect the job completed before allowing the snow removal contractor to leave the job site.

Based upon these findings, Judge Miller of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas granted summary judgment in favor of the snow removal contractor.

Source: 8/24/10 "Case Digests" from Pennsylvania Law Weekly. Copies of these cases may be secured for a small fee by calling the Pennsylvania Law Weekly's Instant Case Service at 1-800-276-7427.

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