Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Summary Judgment Granted in Slip and Fall Case

In the case of Gumby v. Karns Prime and Fancy Food, Ltd., No. 2017-CV-7013 (C.P. Dauph. Co. June 4, 2019 Cherry, J.), the trial court in Dauphin County entered summary judgment in a slip and fall case involving alleged liquid and/or grapes on the floor of a supermarket.  

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff testified that she was walking at a normal pace, looking straight ahead, when she suddenly and unexpectedly fell to the floor.   The Plaintiff did not see anything on the floor prior to her fall. She also did not know, when she landed on the floor, what, if anything caused her to fall.   After the incident, the Plaintiff believed that she slipped on liquid from smashed grapes based upon a statement from one of the store employees, who assisted the Plaintiff after her fall.  

In granting summary judgment, the court noted that, given the Plaintiff’s admission that she had no evidence that the Defendant created the allegedly dangerous condition, the Plaintiff had to show that the Defendant had actual or constructive notice of the condition that allegedly caused her to fall.  

Without any evidence to support such a claim, the Plaintiff asserted that the Defendant had notice because the Defendant store knew or should have known that grapes may fall on the floor because of the packaging.  The court in Dauphin County noted that this theory had been rejected previously by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the case of Meyers v. Penn Traffic, 606 A.2d 926, 930 (Pa. Super. 1992) (suggestion by the Plaintiff that either an employee or a customer dropped a grape amounted to mere speculation and did not create any triable issues).  

In this Gumby case, the court also stated that the Plaintiff’s testimony of shopping cart tracks in the area of the crushed grape or liquid equated to evidence supporting an allegation as to how long the grape or liquid was allegedly on the floor. The court rejected this theory as speculation as the alleged track could have occurred in the moments before the Plaintiff’s fall, which would have provided insufficient notice to the Defendant of any such condition.  

The court additionally noted that the Plaintiff could not satisfy the requirement of constructive notice by asserting that the Defendant lacked an adequate floor maintenance policy.   The Gumby court stated that evidence of a clean-up policy did not amount to facts as to how long the allegedly dangerous condition existed.

The court noted in Gumby also rejected the Plaintiff’s assertion that liability could be established under an argument that the Defendant’s policy that all employees have a general responsibility to inspect the floors amounted to no policy at all.  In this regard, the trial court pointed to Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent indicating that a store owner was not an insurer of the safety of business invitees and only owed a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances, that is, to correct unsafe conditions discoverable through the exercise of reasonable care.  

Last but not least, the court noted that the Nanty-Glo rule did not preclude the entry of summary judgment as that rule was inapplicable where, as here, the Plaintiff is found to have failed to establish a prima facie case of liability given that the Plaintiff admitted that she did not know how the grape or liquid came to be on the floor or how long it was there.  

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

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