Cox, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.: Usual or Expected Dangers and Their Effect on Premises Liability Actions

Winston-Salem premises liability lawyers routinely deal with the issue of whether a particular dangerous condition was known or should have been known by the property owner. While there have been some legislative actions addressing landowner liability in the North Carolina Code, most of the law on this topic comes from judicial decisions. The following is a recent case in the Fifth Circuit dealing with this issue.

caution-tripping-hazard.jpgIn Jamie Cox; Rickey Lee Cox v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit examined the issue of whether a defective door threshold was unreasonably dangerous for the purpose of a premises liability action.

In Cox, plaintiff Jamie Cox went to a Wal-Mart store in Fulton Mississippi along with Rickey Lee Cox. As she entered through the automatic door, she fell and suffered injury. According to a witness sitting on a nearby bench for approximately an hour prior to Mrs. Cox’s fall, the threshold of the door had been rocking back and forth whenever a person stepped on it or a shopping cart rolled over it. This witness further testified that the threshold plate would rise as much as one-half an inch and that the lifting seemed to be caused by the plate not being property secured to the floor. He testified that when Mrs. Cox stepped on one side of the threshold plate, the other side lifted up and caused her to fall. The plaintiffs filed claims for personal injury and loss of consortium in state court. The defendant, Wal-Mart, removed the case to the local United States District Court and then filed a motion for summary judgment. This motion asserted that the threshold defect was not unreasonably dangerous. The trial court agreed with the defendant and granted the motion for summary judgment.

The trial court used a test to determine whether this improperly-secured threshold was within a category of known dangers that customers should come to expect when going into a store like Wal-Mart. The court concluded that people should be aware of certain types of “usual dangers” or “expected dangers,” such as uneven gaps in a sidewalk and other similar defects. Since walkers have reason to know of these types of dangers, they should take extra care to avoid being injured. If they are aware of these usual dangers, then property owner will not be held liable. The trial court further concluded that an uneven threshold that moves up and down because it is not properly fastened is one of these usual or expected dangers and, therefore, Wal-Mart should not be held liable for injury to the plaintiff.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the trial court erred in granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and remanded the case, so that the trial judge could issue a new order consistent with its holding. The court reasoned that there should be no such category of usual dangers applied to cases like these. Additionally, Wal-Mart apparently had a policy requiring store personnel to inspect doorways for any defects, and this policy was unknown to store management at the involved location.

If you have been injured in North Carolina, contact the Lee Law Offices in Winston-Salem at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Cox, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., June 16, 2014, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
More Blog Entries:

Slips and Falls a Leading Cause of Injury for Older Adults in Charlotte, June 24, 2011, Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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