The state supreme court in Idaho reversed a summary judgment granted in favor of a large retailer stemming from a slip-and-fall injury allegedly caused by a spill near a self-service carpet-cleaning machine rental station in the store. Justices ruled the trial court’s finding that the vendor might be liable for negligence – but not the retailer/ property owner – was improper, and that the injury lawsuit should be allowed to proceed to trial
The store had a vendor agreement with the company that owned the carpet cleaning machines for two years by the time of the fall. The vendor had similar agreements with several other companies, but this was the only one wherein these kiosks were completely self-serving (as opposed to having a store employee check customers out). The vendor did not train employees of this store in proper storage and maintenance, as it did at every other location. The machines instead were serviced by the vendor twice a month.
The store had a general slip-and-fall policy that was in place at the time plaintiff fell. The policy mandates employees keep an eye out for safety issues in the spaces where they work. Store workers were specifically told to conduct “safety sweeps” of areas that got a lot of foot traffic, to specifically watch for spills and to clean them up promptly whenever they were discovered.
According to Idaho Supreme Court records, plaintiff went to the store to purchase wood chips and sought assistance from a cashier, who directed her to go to the customer service counter. Plaintiff headed down the alley, escorted by an employee, in a high-traffic area, back toward the garden center. While walking down that alley, plaintiff slipped and fell. She suffered a knee injury as a result that required surgery.
Before the fall, plaintiff didn’t spot any liquid on the floor, but after, she saw and was lying in it while store employees were helping her. Neither she nor the worker could find the source of the liquid. However, the documented in a subsequent investigation that the puddle had come from the carpet cleaning kiosk nearby. Surveillance video showed another customer titling the machine back-and-forth and lifting it into a shopping cart seven minutes before the fall – in that precise location. The video then shows an employee and several customers traveling within the same area where plaintiff fell. No customers reported any spills and no employees reported a hazard.
Plaintiff sued both the store and the carpet cleaning vendor for slip-and-fall injury negligence for failure to maintain the premises and failure to adequately warn of a dangerous condition. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the store (but not the vendor), finding plaintiff failed to offer evidence the store had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition and the liquid on the floor near the kiosk. After the trial court denied her motion for reconsideration, the state supreme court accepted review. The court ultimately reversed that judgment, finding that a general issue of material fact exists as to whether the store knew or should have known of the existence of a dangerous condition by choosing a self-service operating method requiring no employee involvement.
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Brooks v. Wal-Mart, April 19, 2018, Idaho Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Establishing Actual or Constructive Knowledge in Florida Slip-and-Fall, April 4, 2018, Orlando Slip-and-Fall Injury Attorney Blog