Eastern District of Pennsylvania Grants Summary Judgment to Store in Slip and Fall Negligence Action

In Thomas v. Family Dollar Stores of Pennsylvania, LLC, the district court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania considered a premises liability action brought by a shopper due to injuries she received when she slipped and fell in a thick, yellow substance on the floor of an aisle at a Family Dollar retail store. The court granted summary judgment to the store, holding that Family Dollar owed no duty to the shopper and that no evidence existed that could show Family Dollar had constructive notice of the spill prior to the shopper’s fall.

Plaintiff argued that Family Dollar was negligent because it breached its duty of care to keep its premises clear of a slip and fall hazard. She contended that her attention was focused on the products on the shelves, not on the floor, and did not see the substance until she fell. Plaintiff argued that her conduct was reasonable for a customer because businesses should not expect customers to look at the ground as they shop. Instead, stores want shoppers to look at the products to buy on the shelves. Defendant countered that it owed Plaintiff no duty of care because the substance constituted an “open and obvious condition” that Plaintiff should have seen. Plaintiff also argued that Family Dollar breached its duty of care in allowing the condition to exist due to a lack of “any policies, procedures or training … in place for maintenance and safety in [its] stores.”

The court soundly rejected both of Plaintiff’s arguments. With respect to the first argument, the court found that it is hornbook law in Pennsylvania that a person must look where she is going. The court further pointed out that numerous Pennsylvania state and federal courts have outright rejected similar arguments. Applying the general rule under Pennsylvania law that a person who is injured as a result of a failure to observe and avoid an obvious condition that ordinary care for safety would disclose, the court held that the substance in the instant case was an obvious condition. It found that Plaintiff could have easily avoided the substance if she had exercised reasonable care and paid attention to where she was walking. Accordingly, the court held that Family Dollar did not owe Plaintiff any duty and could not be liable for her injuries.

In addressing the second argument that Family Dollar had requisite notice of the spill, the court held that Plaintiff’s claim failed because she could not prove that Family Dollar had adequate notice of the condition to breach the duty of care. The court noted that in order to succeed on the claim, Plaintiff was required to prove that the store created the actual condition or had actual or constructive notice of the condition. In addition, the court recognized that Pennsylvania law requires a plaintiff to provide some proof as to the length of time a spill existed on the floor to establish constructive notice. The court pointed out that Plaintiff failed to even assert that Family Dollar created the harmful condition or had actual or constructive notice of the spill. No proof was provided regarding the length of time the spill was on the floor. Finding no genuine dispute of material fact, the court held that Family Dollar had no constructive notice of the spill and did not breach a duty of care to Plaintiff.

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