Thursday, January 3, 2019

Summary Judgment Granted in Store Slip and Fall Case

Summary Judgment was granted to a Defendant in the slip and fall case of Thomas v. Family Dollar Stores of Pennsylvania, LLC, No. 2:17-CV-04989 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 19, 2018 Kelly, J.).

In this matter, the Plaintiff alleged that she slipped and fell on a thick, yellow substance on the floor of the Defendant’s store while she was looking at the store shelves.   The court noted that the substance on the floor was next to a broken glass bottle.  

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, the Defendant argued that the substance was an open and obvious condition and that it owed no duty of care to the Plaintiff as it had no actual or constructive notice of the condition.  

The court in this matter noted that the record confirmed that the Plaintiff had acknowledged that there were no visual obstructions surrounding the liquid that concealed it from her view.   However, the Plaintiff was arguing that she was focused on the products on display on the store’s shelves at the time she fell. The Plaintiff contended that this was reasonable conduct for a shopper.  

The court rejected the Plaintiff’s argument in this regard, finding that it was “hornbook law in Pennsylvania that a person must look where he [or she] is going.”  

Judge Kelly also reviewed various Pennsylvania and Federal Court decisions applying Pennsylvania law that had rejected similar arguments by other Plaintiffs.    The court noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had observed in the case of Rogers v. Max Azen, Inc., 16 A.2d 529 (Pa. 1940), that, although a lesser degree of attention was required of customers in stores as compared to those walking along sidewalks, the general rule that a Plaintiff must still watch where he or she was walking still applied and that, where one is injured as a result of a failure on his or her part to observe and avoid an obvious condition, the claim fails.  

Turning to the record before it, the court in Thomas ruled that the evidence revealed that the substance on the floor next to the broken glass in this case posed an obvious condition such that its danger should have been readily apparent to a person exercising normal perception and judgment.   Based on these findings, the court ruled that the Defendant did not breach any duty of care to the Plaintiff.  

The court in Thomas went on to also find that the Plaintiff’s claim failed due to the failure of the Plaintiff to show actual or constructive notice on the part of the Defendant of the condition.   The Plaintiff’s general assertion that the Defendant was negligent based upon a lack of policies and procedures for maintenance and safety in the Defendant’s store was rejected as insufficient to show that the Defendant had constructive notice of the spill.  

The court additionally noted that the Plaintiff failed to provide any evidence as to how long the spill was on the floor.   The court noted that an alleged failure to perform a safety sweep said nothing about how long the spill was actually present.   As such, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted on this additional ground as well. 

Anyone wishing to review of a copy of this case may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions,” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Dec. 4, 2018)

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