A Mississippi Appeals court recently affirmed a trial court decision to throw out a Wal-Mart premise liability case involving a damaged container and corrosive burns. Instead of letting the events (and the injuries) speak for themselves, the court places an extremely high evidentiary expectation that was out of the plaintiff’s grasp. Should courts be allowing corporations to escape liability just because the plaintiff is unable to show every single detail of the accident when he is clearly injured? It is a challenge courts have wrestled with for hundreds of years.
What happened? A patron visited a Mississippi Wal-Mart in the fall of 2010. While perusing the aisles, he selected a bottle of bleach to put in his basket. After leaving the checkout counter, the patron realized he accidentally forgot to purchase the bleach and placed the bottle on his lap to return to the cashier. Unfortunately, this bottle of bleach was leaking and spilled its contents on his legs and thighs. Because of a prior injury, the man had been paralyzed from the waist down since 1967 and he did not become aware of the spilled bleach until the cashier noticed the leaking bottle. The bleach caused chemical burns on his thigh and knee, and he brought suit against the Wal-Mart Corporation.
The patron filed a premise liability claim that alleged Wal-Mart was negligent and had knowledge of a dangerous condition. Wal-Mart made a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court dismissed the case, saying that the patron failed to prove Wal-Mart’s negligent act. The Mississippi Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s decision.