Court Rejects Grocery Store’s Proposed Alternative to Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Theory

In a recent opinion issued by a federal appellate court, the court permitted a plaintiff’s slip-and-fall case to proceed against a grocery store after a lower court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim. The case involved the application of the summary judgment standard, requiring the court to determine if the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence that the defendant grocery store had knowledge of the hazard that caused his fall.

Finding that the plaintiff’s theory of what caused his fall was more plausible than the grocery store’s proposed alternative, the court reversed the lower court and allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed. The case illustrates important general concepts of defense motions for summary judgment, which frequently are filed in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was shopping at Wal-Mart when he slipped and fell after stepping in a puddle of slippery liquid. The store’s surveillance camera caught the incident, and showed that, at 6:56, an employee using an automated floor-cleaning machine came down the aisle and the employee operating the machine paused at a particular spot where the floor changed from white vinyl to brown tile. While the store had a written policy to place “wet floor” signs in areas that were to be cleaned, no signs were present.

Over the next half hour, several customers and employees walked through the aisle. None of them fell or stopped to clean up any liquid on the floor. Later, employees of a McDonald’s restaurant located inside the grocery store dragged a garbage can through the area. A few moments after that the plaintiff is seen entering the aisle and slipping.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the grocery store. The plaintiff’s theory was that the floor-cleaning machine left some liquid on the floor that was not cleaned up by store employees. The plaintiff based this theory on the fact that the machine paused over the area where he fell, and that liquid was likely to gather at the low point where the two types of flooring met. The store argued that the plaintiff failed to present any evidence that it was aware of the spill, and proposed that the spill was caused by either other customers passing through the area or by the employees that had recently dragged the garbage can through the aisle.

The Court’s Decision

The court held that the plaintiff’s proposed theory was the only one supported by reliable indicia, and reversed the lower court’s dismissal of his claim. The court explained that the store’s proposed alternative was merely speculative and based solely on conjecture, while the plaintiff’s theory was based on observable facts. The court also explained that the plaintiff need not conclusively prove his theory was the absolute cause of the fall, only that it was a plausible alternative.

Have You Been Injured in a Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, the attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC can help you obtain compensation for your injuries. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we handle personal injury and wrongful death cases in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Our dedicated Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyers have decades of experience successfully handling a wide variety of claims, and know what it takes to succeed on our clients’ behalf. To learn more, call 610-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Applies “Sudden Emergency Doctrine” in Recent Truck Accident Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, July 17, 2018

Plaintiff Who Was Bitten by Spider Permitted to Pursue Claim Against Restaurant, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, August 7, 2018

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