Slip in Time
by Ron Davis
Uncertainty over how much time a slippery substance lay on the floor at an Ohio shopping center has decided the outcome of a lawsuit against the center’s owners.
The shopping center is Dayton Mall in Dayton, and the lawsuit resulted from injuries suffered in a slip-and-fall accident in the main level of the center. That fall occurred when a shopper stepped on a foreign substance, described as a “pink smoothie drink,” and lost her balance. She sued, blaming the center’s owners and the center’s cleaning contractor for her injuries.
Evidence in the lawsuit shows that at the time of the accident, three members of the contractor’s cleaning staff were on duty, with one assigned to the center’s main level. The main-level employee was required to walk the main-level perimeter every 30 minutes to inspect for debris and spills, plus check the restrooms for cleanliness.
The main-level employee explained that at the time of the accident, she had “walked the perimeter of the mall from end to end on the outside of all the anchor stores and conducted a restroom check, all within a 30-minute period.” She also noted that “each restroom check had to be logged to ensure that the [housekeeping staff] were keeping with the 30-minute schedule.”
The injured shopper argued, however, that the housekeeping staff should have known of the spilled substance that cause her fall and cleaned it up. Because it was not cleaned up, she added, the center’s owners were guilty of negligence.
Ohio law holds a business owner liable for a slip-and-fall injury caused by a foreign substance found on the owner’s floor if there’s proof that the owner knew of the substance and failed to remove it within a “sufficient” time.
An Ohio court found that the injured woman had failed to produce any evidence to demonstrate that the shopping center or its employees knew that the substance was on the floor. Specifically, the court stated that “noting that the spill could have occurred at any time during the housekeeper’s 30-minute round does not provide the court with evidence that the center’s owners should have been on constructive notice of the spill. After all, the spill could have been in existence for 30 seconds or 30 minutes. A jury would be required to guess or speculate as to how long the spill was actually present, which is impermissible under Ohio law.”
The injured shopper appealed that ruling, but an Ohio appellate court agreed fully with the trial court’s findings and conclusions. (Humerick v. Glimcher Realty Trust, Slip Copy, 2007 WL 1454778 [Ohio App. 2 Dist.])
Decision: May 2007
Published: June 2007