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Store Not Liable for Loose Dustpan That May Have Caused Customer’s Fall

There are two significant hurdles a plaintiff must clear when bringing a premises liability claim: First, there must be proof that a “hazard” existed on the defendant’s property that caused the plaintiff’s injury; and second, the plaintiff must show the defendant had “actual or constructive knowledge” of this hazard.

Green v. Big Lots Stores, Inc.

Here is a recent example in which a plaintiff managed to clear the first hurdle but not the second. This case, Green v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., involves a slip-and-all accident that occurred in August 2015. The plaintiff and his wife went to the defendant’s store to do their grocery shopping. They entered the store just as it was opening for the day. According to the plaintiff, he noticed a store manager “pushing a push broom in the aisles.”

At one point, the plaintiff and his wife were walking down an aisle where there were no other people present. As the plaintiff searched one of the shelves for an item, he said he “felt his leg slipping out from under him.” He fell, and in doing so noticed a “flying object” above his feet. The plaintiff’s wife identified the object as a dustpan, although she did not actually see her husband fall. The manager confirmed that he entered the aisle after the plaintiff’s fall and saw a dustpan lying on the floor.

The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendant for negligence in causing his fall. The case was heard in federal court. The defense moved for summary judgment, first noting that there was no evidence proving what actually caused the plaintiff’s accident. The defense maintained that neither the plaintiff nor his wife saw the dustpan prior to the fall.

The judge rejected this argument, noting that Georgia law does not require anyone to “see the hazard before someone slips on it in order to establish that there was a hazard.” In any case, the plaintiff’s testimony that he saw a “flying object,” plus the wife’s identification of the dustpan, was sufficient to show there was a “genuine issue of fact” regarding the cause of the accident.

That said, the judge ultimately granted the defense motion for summary judgment for a second reason–namely, that the plaintiffs could not show the defendant had “actual or constructive knowledge” that the dustpan was on the floor prior to the accident and constituted a potential safety hazard. In support of this ruling, the judge cited surveillance video taken by the defendant’s security cameras on the morning of the accident. The footage showed an employee “pushing a broom” through the aisle in question about 10 minutes before the accident. This demonstrated the defendant “had adequate inspection procedures” in place to ensure its aisles were reasonably free of hazards. So without anything more, the judge said the plaintiff’s claims failed as a matter of law.