A Slippery Situation at Samís
by Ron Davis
Persistence has paid off for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., in a slip-and-fall case involving one of Wal-Mart's shopping centers in Missouri.
The slip-and-fall incident that was the basis of the case occurred in the parking lot of a Springfield shopping center in which a Wal-Mart's Sam's Club is located. A customer had been shopping at the Sam's Club and just after exiting the store he stepped into a brownish-colored oily substance, lost his balance, and injured himself in the resulting fall.
The customer said, however, that he did not see the substance before his fall, nor, he added, did he see the substance before entering the store. A Sam's Club "greeter" working just inside the store said she saw the customer fall and went to help him, and she commented that although she saw a "slippery substance" at the point where he slipped, she had a clear view of the parking lot and had not seen the substance beforehand.
The Sam's Club also employed "cart attendants," who periodically went outside the store to retrieve shopping carts. None of them reported seeing any oily substance near the store entrance/exit. But there was no evidence as to when the last of the cart attendants had gone outside before the customer fell.
The customer sued Wal-Mart, contending that the company was negligent in failing to maintain its parking lot in a safe manner. In response, Wal-Mart argued that there was no evidence indicating that the substance had been on the pavement long enough so that store employees could have spotted it and cleaned it up.
A Missouri jury nevertheless ruled in favor of the customer and awarded him damages of $18,750. Wal-Mart appealed, arguing that the judge in the case should have prevented a trial by jury and ruled that there was insufficient evidence for any assessment of damages.
A Missouri appellate agreed with Wal-Mart and dismissed the case, explaining, "The injured customer did not make a submissible case by showing that the substance on the sidewalk where he fell was either foreseeable to Wal-Mart or that it had constructive notice of its presence. Under the facts in this case, Wal-Mart would have no liability for a condition that appeared suddenly before the customer's fall which it could either not reasonably be held to foresee or which its employees did not have a reasonable opportunity to observe and correct.." (Gatley v. Wal-Mart Store, Inc., 16 S.W.3d 711 [[Mo.App. S. D. 2000])
Decision: June 2000
Published: July 2000