Slip at Large Retail Store Leads to Summary Judgment and Subsequent Appeal

A summary judgment is strong medicine. When a trial court grants a motion for summary judgment, it precludes the non-moving party from having their case go to the jury and in some cases from presenting any evidence at all. Because this remedy is so potent, the granting of a motion for summary judgment is reviewed de novo on appeal. A summary judgment is a matter of law not a matter of fact so the trial court is not in any way in a better position to make this decision. The appellate court uses the same standard of review as the district court.

Wal-Mart Louisiana, L.L.C. was granted a summary judgment against Jean and Robert Gray. The trial court found that they had not presented any genuine disputes of material fact. The plaintiffs appeal was granted and a new trial ordered because the appellate court found that there were genuine issues of material fact. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision after commenting upon the meanings of the words “genuine” and “material.”

The appellate court found that a fact was “material” if when it is resolved in favor of one party or another it affects the outcome of the case under the governing law. A fact will only be found to be material if it could actually matter to the trial court’s decision. If a fact would not have any bearing on the case it cannot be deemed material. Facts that are presented that are immaterial do nothing to prevent a trial court from granting a motion for summary judgment.

The appellate court went on to explain that an issue is “genuine” if the evidence presented was sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. If a jury that falls within objective standards for normal behavior and decision making could possibly have returned a verdict for the party that is not asking for summary judgment then that party has presented genuine issues and the moving party’s motion should be denied or the decision should be reversed on appeal.

An important aspect of a case like this that the appellate court highlighted is that on appeal all inferences and constructions of fact are taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. The moving party has already been successful its case at the trial level by the time a case is under appellate review point. Construing all facts and inferences in that party’s favor would provide little relief to the party that has lost at the trial level due to the motion for summary judgment. The appellate court in this case determined that the plaintiffs had actually put for genuine issues of material fact and therefore Wal-Mart was not entitled to a summary judgment. A new trial was ordered when the district court was reversed.

The plaintiffs in this case were found to have put into question the issue of whether or not Wal-Mart “created” the condition that caused Ms. Gray’s accident. Ms. Gray was injured when she slipped on some liquid on Wal-Mart’s floor. The appellate court noted some instances in which “created” was used by courts in this jurisdiction. These uses of “created” combined with the facts of this case were enough to convince the appellate court that the plaintiffs may have been entitled to relief. The appellate court used the following facts in its analysis. There was a rain storm the day of her accident. An incident report created contemporaneously with her accident noted that Wal-Mart’s roof had some holes in it that contributed to the slippery conditions in the store. While the district court did not find that the issue was open as to whether or not Wal-Mart had a responsibility to Ms. Gray, the appellate court disagreed. The appellate court found that under the applicable law Ms. Gray and her husband may have been entitled to relief. The appellate court did not determine that as a matter of law that the plaintiffs were entitled to relief, simply that they may have been.

If you have slipped and fallen on a premises owned or controlled by someone else, call the Berniard Law Firm to help pick you up, toll-free at 1-866-574-8005.