5th Circuit Rules Wal-Mart Not Liable for Slip-and-Fall Caused by Leaky Roof

When a hazardous condition on a merchant’s property causes a slip-and-fall accident, the victim can file suit for his or her injuries. But in Louisiana, the merchant can only be held liable for those injuries if the merchant created the danger or had actual or constructive notice of it before the accident. This law saved Wal-Mart from liability in Gray v. Wal-Mart, a recent case from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On September 1, 2008, Hurricane Gustav made landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana as a Category 2 storm, causing considerable casualties and damages along its track. That day, Louisiana resident Jean Gray was shopping at a Wal-Mart in Pineville. As she was pushing her cart down an aisle, she slipped in a puddle of clear liquid and fell, injuring her right knee. In an internal incident report, a Wal-Mart supervisor identified a hole in the store’s roof as the source of the puddle, an assumption he made based on his knowledge of other leaks in the roof and the heavy rain pouring down outside.

Gray and her husband sued Wal-Mart for her injuries, claiming that she slipped in a puddle of rainwater that had leaked from a hole in the store’s roof. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart. The Grays appealed, and the case went to the Fifth Circuit.

Under Louisiana law, a plaintiff asserting a slip-and-fall claim against a merchant must prove that the merchant “either created or had actual or constructive notice of the condition which caused the damage, prior to the occurrence.” If the Grays could not raise a genuine issue as to this fact — in other words, if no reasonable jury could find that Wal-Mart created or had notice of the hazardous puddle — then Wal-Mart was entitled to summary judgment.

The Grays argued, based on the incident report, that either Wal-Mart created the hazard by allowing its roof to leak, or Wal-Mart had actual knowledge of the hazard because it was aware that its roof leaked.

As to the first claim, the court found that Wal-Mart did not create the hazardous condition that caused Gray’s injury. To prevail on this claim, the Grays would have had to show that an action by a Wal-Mart employee caused the leak. Because the Grays could not establish that Wal-Mart was directly responsible for the leak, they failed to raise a genuine issue as to whether Wal-Mart created the dangerous puddle.

Nor did the Grays show that Wal-Mart had actual knowledge of the leak before Gray’s accident occurred. The supervisor merely assumed after the accident had already occurred that the hole he identified was the source of the leak. This assumption after the fact was insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact as to Wal-Mart’s actual knowledge of the puddle before the accident.

If you suffered an injury as a result of a dangerous condition on someone else’s property, contact the Berniard Law Firm. Providing the best experts in personal injury law, our law firm is fully capable of meeting your litigation needs and getting you the relief you deserve.