Customers have an expectation of safety while shopping in retail stores. When a customer is injured while on the premise, they are entitled to damages. However, a customer may only recover damages if adequate proof is shown. Proof of an unreasonable risk of harm is a critical element of Louisiana slip and fall cases. The following case out of Slidell, Louisiana, shows why facts are crucial when pursuing a slip and fall lawsuit.
Hope Held was injured while shopping at Home Depot with her child. She alleged her injuries were due to the misplacement of a wire hand truck(truck) in the electronic section of the store. After her fall, she was found by an employee, Jeffrey Crossland, and was escorted out of the aisle to receive help and complete an accident report.
Held filed a lawsuit for her injuries against Home Depot. The store responded by successfully filing a motion for summary judgment in the trial court. Held disagreed and appealed the judgment to the appellate court.
Under Louisiana law, a summary judgment will be granted if there are no issues of material facts in the case. La. C.C.P. art. 966. The burden of proof rests on the filer of the motion. However, if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the summary judgment issue, their burden does not require that he negate all essential elements of the adverse party’s claim. Instead, they can point to the absence of factual support for one or more elements necessary to the adverse party’s case. To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must produce evidence that there was a genuine issue for trial. La. C.C.P. art. 966.
The substantive law of this case was the Louisiana Merchant Liability Statute. It provides, “a merchant needs to keep his store and customers safe from conditions that may cause an injury.” R.S. 9:2800.6. A person filing a claim under this statute must prove: “(1) the store had an unnecessary risk of harm which was probable; (2) the dangerous condition was caused by the merchant or the merchant was aware of it before the injury took place, and (3) sufficient care was not used”. R.S. 9:2800.6(8).
The critical issue in the appeal was whether or not Home Depot created an unreasonable risk of harm. To analyze this issue, the appeals court examined the evidence presented at the summary judgment hearing.
The evidence showed Crossland asserted in his deposition that the truck was typically placed in that section of the store because that is where electronic equipment was kept. He stated that the truck was positioned safely before Held’s injury. He acknowledged that Held’s son had photographic evidence of the placement of the truck, but he disagreed with their interpretation of the photos.
Held stated that an employee was seen in the aisle before her accident. She alleged the employee used and positioned the truck in an unsafe manner, which resulted in her injury. Held offered evidence of pictures she took after the accident. While these pictures gave the court a view of what she saw, they were not proof enough for the court to say they “obviously” showed the truck could not fit under the shelf, as she alleged. Lastly, Held asserted Mr. Crossland’s recollection of the accident in his testimony and incident report did not match.
The court concluded Held did not prove the defendants created the risk of harm. The court reasoned the evidence did not show why the truck was positioned the way it was. The fact that an employee was in the aisle before the accident was not enough to show he was the cause of the truck’s placement. Contrary to Helds’s arguments, her photos didn’t show the truck couldn’t fit underneath the shelf. The appeals court reasoned Held’s arguments were based on speculation, not fact, and facts are what is needed to defeat a summary judgment motion.
For those reasons, the appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision to dismiss Held’s lawsuit. Nevertheless, this case shows the difficulties in presenting a Louisiana Merchant liability claim after a slip and fall. Make sure you employ a skilled lawyer to pursue such claims.
Additional Sources: HOPE HELD v. HOME DEPOT LAURA SPELL MANAGER AND XYZ INSURANCE COMPANY
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Needum Lekia
Other Berniard Law Firm Articles on slip and fall accidents: Are You Entitled to a Claim If You Fall In A Grocery Store?