Georgia Slip and Fall Case Dismissed on Summary Judgment

A federal judge in Georgia dismissed a slip-and-fall case against Walmart finding that the company owed the woman no duty to keep its store safe from water hazards.

In Chapman v. Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart’s Customer Service Manager began instituting rainy day procedures. Employees were instructed to place carpeted mats in the inside vestibule, inspect the vestibule and front store area throughout the morning for dampness, dry off shopping carts, hand out umbrella bags, and use brightly colored cones to warn customers of possible water on the floor. When plaintiff entered the store the rain had ceased, but the weather remained damp.

She entered the vestibule to grab a shopping cart, not looking down at the ground while doing so. On her way to the carts, she slipped and fell. Upon falling, she noticed a puddle on the ground. Plaintiff brought a slip-and-fall case in federal district court, alleging Wal-Mart acted negligently by failing to keep the store free of puddles and for failing to adequately warn her of puddles. Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment.

Georgia law requires an unusual accumulation and a lack of reasonable inspection and cleaning in order for a plaintiff to recover in a slip-and-fall case. Georgia courts recognize that rainy weather and subsequent dampness and puddles are commonplace in Georgia. Courts therefore only want to reward plaintiffs when stores somehow have superior knowledge of the water hazard, given that the risk of puddles, even inside a store, is common knowledge of ordinary citizens. In these instances, stores must only exercise ordinary care towards customers, meaning that they only need to protect against unreasonable risks of harm.

A puddle is generally not seen as an unreasonable risk given how common it is. In addition, stores only have the duty to warn when they have superior knowledge in slip-and-fall cases. As puddles during rainy weather are common knowledge, it is an uphill battle for rainy weather slip-and-fall plaintiffs to prove superior knowledge. In its motion, Wal-Mart argued that: (1) Chapman was aware it had just rained and that it was damp outside, (2) Chapman admitted that it was not unusual for store entrances to be damp on rainy days, and (3) the Customer Service Manager had inspected the floor five minutes prior to the fall and found no water. Chapman failed to provide any evidence to support her case in her response.

To make this case work, you have to put forth some evidence. Specifically, plaintiff’s lawyer failed to offer any evidence that: (1) an unreasonable accumulation of water existed on the floor and (2) Wal-Mart acted unreasonably in its inspection or cleaning procedures. The law is, and it should be, that plaintiffs have to show actual negligence, not just that someone got hurt. The court found that Wal-Mart had exercised ordinary care in keeping its store safe and dry and did not breach a duty to warn Chapman of any hazards. Therefore, the court granted Wal-Mart’s motion for summary judgment.

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