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Ignorance is Bliss
by Ron Davis

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., has successfully defended itself in a slip-and-fall victim's lawsuit by arguing that it had no knowledge of the conditions that caused the victim's accident.

The accident occurred in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart shopping center in suburban New Orleans. The victim and her husband had just left the store, pushing a shopping cart onto which they had loaded a television set. Just before they reached their car, however, the woman slipped as she stepped on a directional arrow painted on the parking lot surface.

Rain was falling at the time, and the parking lot was thoroughly drenched. But the woman claimed that as she approached the directional arrow that in addition to its being wet, it "didn't look right." After she fell, the woman said, she noticed that the arrow's painted surface was "oily."

In her subsequent negligence lawsuit, she maintained that her injury was a result of "a defect in, and not a hazardous condition on," the Wal-Mart property.

In Louisiana, however, a customer injured on a retail property under such circumstances must prove that the risk of harm to the property owner's customers was reasonably foreseeable. Moreover, there must be proof that the property owner had actual notice of the condition that caused the injury. Finally, there must be evidence that the property owner failed to take reasonable care to prevent such an injury.

In the lawsuit against Wal-Mart, the injured woman said she slipped on a wet, oily substance on the directional arrow. But she presented no evidence that Wal-Mart knew of the arrow's condition or defect.

A Louisiana court consequently dismissed the lawsuit. The injured woman appealed.

A Louisiana appellate court upheld the lower court's dismissal of the case, noting that the injured woman had argued only that the painting of the directional arrow on the parking lot surface presented an unreasonable risk of harm to pedestrians because of its slippery surface. "Thus," the judges explained, "the woman failed in her burden to show any factual support for the required element of [Wal-Mart's] prior knowledge of a hazardous condition." (Carr v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 772 So.2d 865 [La.App. 5 Cir. 2000])

Decision: November 2000
Published: January 2001



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