Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit Gets a Second Go

A slip-and-fall lawsuit has been revived after review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District, which held there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether defendant store created the hazardous condition in question. water

According to federal court records, plaintiff slipped and fell in a big-box store in September 2012. She filed a personal injury lawsuit alleging she had slipped on a pool of water that had collected on the ground due to a roof that was negligently-maintained. District court entered summary judgment in favor of the store. However, finding there were numerous issues of genuine material fact that still had yet to be decided, the Fifth Circuit reversed.

Plaintiff suffered the injury while shopping with her sister, who witnessed the incident. An employee of the store was present shortly thereafter and retrieved a wheelchair for plaintiff and helped her leave the store. Plaintiff’s sister then drove her to the emergency room. The manager at the time filed an incident report and noted the floor in the area where plaintiff had slipped was clean except for small droplets of water on the floor. Manager noted the weather that day was rainy, but listed the source of the water on the floor as “unknown.” 

Both parties agree that the roof had leaks, but they diverge as to the scope and frequency of those leaks. Plaintiff argues the leaks occurred throughout the store, though store attorneys insist the leaks were isolated, confined to a few areas where new skylights were recently put in. There is a dispute as to whether the water in question came from the roof.

Plaintiff alleges she slipped and fell on water that leaked from the roof, which the store maintained in a negligent manner, and thus she is entitled to compensation.

Defendant store filed for summary judgment, arguing plaintiff was unable to show store managers or employees either created the condition or had actual or constructive knowledge of it prior to her fall. This is a key element of slip-and-fall lawsuits in Louisiana (where this incident occurred) as well as in North Carolina. The trial court judge granted defense motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, plaintiff argues the trial court erred in this decision. The key questions for review are:

  • Did plaintiff present enough evidence from which a reasonable jury could opine she slipped on water from the leaky roof?
  • Was the store’s alleged negligent maintenance of the roof enough to show it “created the condition” for purposes of state slip-and-fall law?

The federal appeals court answered both these question in the affirmative. The court did not say it sided with plaintiff’s account, only that it was plausible that the accident happened as she described.

The court noted that while there was a dispute as to the weather that day – whether it rained that day or in the days preceding – it had definitely been a rainy week. There were also disputes as to when the leaks started. Attorneys for the store asserted they began when the new skylights were installed, but testimony from the manager indicates the leaks started before that. There were also photographs showing buckets on the floor and “caution” signs in various parts of the store. It would be unusual for the store to do this absent concern about leaks. Additionally, the manager testified the leaks occurred throughout the building, and that staffers were on the lookout to “mark” leaks when it rained.

Based on this, the court found sufficient evidence for the slip-and-fall case to go to trial.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Deshotel v. Wal-Mart Stores, March 8, 2017, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Personal Chef Awarded $1.5M in Slip-and-Fall, Feb. 22, 2017, Slip-and-Fall Accident Lawyer Blog

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