Zuppardi v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. – Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit

Slip-and-fall cases are harder to prove than you think. This is especially true in North Carolina, where not only must plaintiffs prove defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of a given hazard, they must also defend against claims of contributory negligence. tile2.jpg

Contributory negligence is the degree to which a plaintiff shares the blame for the injury in question. In most states, the damages awarded are reduced by whatever percentage of fault a plaintiff is found to share. In North Carolina, however, a finding of just 1 percent contributory negligence means you are barred from collecting anything at all.

So for example, you might slip and fall on a gob of ketchup in the grocery store. The store knew about it and failed to clean it up in a timely manner. However, the store could argue you had a duty to notice the open and obvious hazard of bright red ketchup on the floor and take precautions to avoid it. And they could win on that theory.

Our Charlotte slip-and-fall injury lawyers know that while these cases are difficult to win, they are not impossible. An experienced legal team can help you piece together the most effective strategy.

One recent slip-and-fall case was appealed to a federal appellate court (the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit), where the panel affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment favoring the store. This decision was primarily reached because plaintiff failed to show sufficient evidence that the store breached its owed duty to her by most likely being the creator of the dangerous condition.

According to court records, plaintiff went to the grocery store one summer afternoon with her brother and son to buy some milk. She walked through a highly-traveled aisle, walking at a normal pace with her grocery cart when she slipped and fell in a puddle, suffering injury. She would later say she believed the substance to be water because it was colorless and odorless. There were no surveillance cameras fixed to the area where the slip-and-fall occurred, though a manager would later testify employees routinely check the high-traffic aisles for spills, etc.

There were no other customers around at the time of the fall, which occurred near an employee-only door, where workers walked in and out with goods to restock shelves. When plaintiff found an employee to assist her, he was several aisles away, stocking water or soda (she wasn’t sure which).

She asserted that because there were no other customers around and the area where she slipped was located near the employee door and an employee nearby was stocking water, it had more than likely been an employee who spilled water on the floor, causing her fall.

The court did not find this argument sufficient.

In any negligence case, plaintiffs have to show:

  • Duty of care owed by defendant to plaintiff;
  • Breach of that duty;
  • Proximate harm.

The problem here was the breach-of-duty arm. In order to prove breach of duty to keep the store in a safe condition, plaintiff would have needed to show that:

  • Substance was placed there by the negligence of the business;
  • Business had actual notice of the substance
  • OR the substance was there for long enough that, in the course of ordinary care, its presence should have been discovered (i.e., constructive notice).

Plaintiff here argued notice was not relevant because there was sufficient evidence the store caused the spill. In order to prove this, she had to show the substance was “more than likely” placed on premises through defendant’s negligence, as opposed to a customer’s. That means showing the foreign substance was somehow related to the business or offer some other evidence – either direct or circumstantial – indicating the substance was placed there by defendant or employees, as opposed to customers.

However, the court found plaintiff’s assertions in this case to be mere speculation, and not concrete evidence.

Contact our North Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Zuppardi v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Oct. 24, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Powers v. 31 E 31 LLC – Apartment Fall Premises Liability Lawsuit, Oct. 24, 2014, Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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