Federal Court Orders Arbitration Between Defendant and Third-Party Defendant in Premises Liability Lawsuit

A lawsuit arising from a slip-and-fall accident in a grocery store parking lot, Kindig v. Whole Foods Market Group, has taken an unusual journey from a Washington, DC Superior Court to a federal U.S. District Court. After the defendant grocery store company sued the parking lot manager as a third-party defendant, the court ordered the two into arbitration. The court then allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed.

Marion Kindig allegedly slipped and fell in water in the parking lot of the Whole Foods Market (WFM) in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC on November 26, 2007. She landed on concrete and reportedly sustained serious lower-body injuries. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against WFM in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. WFM removed the case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. It also filed a third-party complaint for indemnification and/or contribution against the company contracted to manage the parking lot, U.S.A. Parking, and its owner, Solomon Arega.

U.S.A. Parking and Arega filed a motion to dismiss. Arega argued that WFM had no legal basis for holding him individually liable for any obligations of the corporation he owned. The court found that WFM had not pleaded any allegations that would compel the court to disregard the corporate entity, such as allegations that Arega was using the U.S.A. Parking corporation as an “alter ego” or as a means to perpetrate a fraud. It therefore granted Arega’s motion and dismissed him as a third-party defendant.

U.S.A. Parking argued in its motion that its contract with WFM included a mandatory arbitration clause. The court cited the indemnification provisions of the contract between the two companies, which obligated U.S.A. Parking to indemnify WFM and hold it harmless against any legal claims directly related to the contracted services. It also cited the provisions in which the parties agreed to arbitrate any and all disputes arising under the contract. The court concluded that a dispute existed between WFM and U.S.A. Parking as to the extent of latter company’s obligation to WFM in Kindig’s lawsuit. It ordered the two parties into arbitration, staying any further court proceedings between the two until arbitration could be conducted.

The court did not, however, order Kindig into arbitration with WFM. A court generally has discretion to compel arbitration, although the court noted that Kindig, unlike U.S.A. Parking, did not agree in advance to submit the dispute to that process. The court was therefore not required, under the Federal Arbitration Act, to stay the proceeding between Kindig and WFM. It considered whether or not it would be equitable to stay Kindig’s case while WFM and U.S.A. Parking went through arbitration, and concluded that Kindig’s case could proceed regardless of the status of the dispute between the two companies. It ordered the suit between Kindig and WFM into discovery. As of July 2012, the case is still there.

The premises liability attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen represent the rights of people in the Washington, DC area who were injured due to hazardous or dangerous conditions on others’ property. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online, or call (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Supreme Court Rules for Baseball Player in Sports Injury Case on Issue of Litigation Costs, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2012
Court Finds Washington Metro Immune from Claim in Slip and Fall Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 20, 2012
Washington DC Slip and Fall: An Injury Accident that May Be Grounds for a Lawsuit, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, July 5, 2011

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