Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas slip-and-fall case that arose after the plaintiff slipped and fell in a Wal-Mart store. The case required the court to determine if the trial court was proper in dismissing the plaintiff’s lawsuit after granting Wal-Mart’s motions for summary judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that summary judgment was not appropriate for Wal-Mart because the plaintiff’s proposed theory of how the accident occurred was the most plausible among those suggested by the parties.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was shopping at Wal-Mart when he slipped and fell in a puddle of clear liquid that was left in an aisle. The puddle was at a low-lying area of the floor, where brown tile met white vinyl.
The incident was captured on low-resolution video that showed an auto-scrubber floor-cleaning machine pass over the area where the tile met the vinyl. The machine – which dispenses a soapy liquid, scrubs the floor, and then sucks up any remaining liquid – paused over the area where the plaintiff fell. The video was too poor in quality to determine with any certainty that liquid was left behind.
Over the course of the next 25 minutes, the video shows numerous customers and employees walking through the area without incident. Two employees dragged trash cans through the area as well. Not long after that, the plaintiff is seen approaching the area and slipping.
Wal-Mart policy required that employees place “Wet Floor” signs in all areas that are to be scrubbed and that they trail mop any remaining liquid left behind by the scrubbing machine. The video showed that neither of these tasks was performed by any employee.
The plaintiff sued Wal-Mart under a premises liability theory. Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to meet his burden to show that Wal-Mart caused the condition to exist. The plaintiff appealed.
The Court’s Opinion
The court explained that, in order to succeed in a Texas premises liability lawsuit, the plaintiff need not necessarily show that the defendant landowner caused the hazard, but they can also establish that they had actual knowledge of its existence or that the hazard existed long enough that they should have known about its existence. The court then noted that any of these may be proven by direct or circumstantial evidence.
Wal-Mart argued that the plaintiff’s proposed explanation was no more plausible than its own explanation, which was that either a customer or one of the employees dragging the garbage can across the floor left the puddle. However, the court rejected Wal-Mart’s argument, explaining that only the plaintiff’s theory was “supported by multiple, particularized indicia,” including the fact that the scrubber paused over that specific area of the floor, that the liquid would collect in a low-lying area, and that the spill was concentrated in a particular area and did not leave a trail of liquid. Thus, the court determined that the plaintiff’s case should be permitted to proceed to trial.
Have You Been Injured in a Texas Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Texas slip-and-fall accident, the dedicated San Antonio personal injury lawyers at Carabin Shaw can help you seek the compensation you deserve. At Carabin Shaw, we have extensive experience handling a wide range of personal injury claims, including Texas premises liability lawsuits. To learn more, call 210-222-2288 to schedule a free consultation today.
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