Supermarkets generally owe a duty to their customers to make sure the store is safe to walk around in. But this duty has certain rules built into it to make sure that this standard is fair to both the customers and the place of business. Where this line is drawn was found by a Shreveport area woman after she slipped and fell on what appeared to be cracked eggs. So, when are stores liable for a slip and fall?
Ava Williams-Ball was shopping at a Brookshire Grocery store when she slipped and fell on a clear “egg-like” substance in the diary aisle. The fall caused her to injure her back and shoulders and these injuries took months of pain relief medication and physical therapy to recover. She brought a lawsuit against Brookshire and her argument that the merchant was liable for her injuries was rejected by the Trial Court. The Trial Court determined that Ms. Ball failed to prove that Brookshire had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition. The Trial Court relied on surveillance video from the store to make its determination. Ms. Ball then appealed the decision on the grounds that the Trial Court committed an error when it decided that Brookshire did not have notice of the dangerous condition and that Brookshire employees did not create the dangerous condition.
For a negligence claim to be successful against a merchant there are three elements the plaintiff needs to prove. La. R.S. 9:2800.6. First, that there was a risk of harm that was not reasonable and that it was foreseeable that harm could be caused. Second, the store either knew about the condition or created the condition. The knowledge of the condition can be actual or constructive knowledge. Third, the plaintiff needs to prove that the merchant did not exercise care that was reasonable. All three of these elements need to be proven for a successful case. White v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 699 So. 2d 1081 (La. Ct. App. 1997). If a plaintiff fails to prove any of the three elements then the case fails. Rowell v. Hollywood Casino Shreveport, 996 So. 2d 476 (La. Ct. App. 2008). Slip and fall lawsuits against a company will not be changed unless the decision was clearly wrong or there was manifest error. Jones v. Brookshire Grocery Co., 847 So. 2d 43 (La. Ct. App. 2003).
When the Appellate Court took another look at Ms. Ball’s allegations, it relied heavily on the Trial Court’s use of surveillance video to determine who caused the substance to be on the floor. The video contained footage of before, during, and after the incident. It was determined that the video did not establish that any employee from Brookshire caused the substance to be on the floor. The video also establishes that the substance was not visible and there was no evidence that anyone saw the substance on the floor before the fall.
Because of the video, it was clear that Ms. Ball did not establish the essential elements to her claim that the substance that caused her fall was from a Brookshire employee or that Brookshire employees knew that the substance was on the floor. The Trial Court’s decision was determined to be correct. It was an unfortunate accident, but in the interests of fairness, there needs to be some time for a supermarket to clean up a spill before it is held to be liable for a slip and fall.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: John Trepel
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