A federal judge in Georgia recently 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 the 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 evidence to support her case in her response.
To make this case work, you have to put forth some evidence. Specifically, the 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.
Georgia Slip and Fall Verdicts and Settlements
$385,000 Verdict (Georgia 2022): The plaintiff was riding a motor scooter on a sidewalk in downtown Atlanta when she struck a broken, uneven and caved-in area of sidewalk, causing her to be thrown off the scooter and suffer significant injuries. She brought a lawsuit against the City of Atlanta for failure to maintain the sidewalk and a jury awarded $550,000, which was reduced to $385,000 based on the comparative fault rule.
$225,000 Verdict (Georgia 2021): A woman walked along the meat aisle at Walmart. She slipped and fell into a clear liquid puddle. The woman suffered a lateral medial malleolus fracture. She also developed arthritis. The woman alleged negligence against Walmart. She claimed its staff failed to clean the puddle and warn shoppers of the hazard. The jury awarded $225,000.
$150,000 Verdict (Georgia 2021): An 88-year-old restaurant patron collided with a worker who was pulling a cart. The woman fell to the floor. She suffered a right wrist fracture and a right ankle sprain. The woman also suffered a traumatic brain injury and the aggravation of her pre-existing dementia. Her fractures healed on their own. The woman experienced cognitive impairments, including concentration difficulties and memory loss. She alleged negligence against the restaurant. The woman claimed its staff negligently collided with her. A jury awarded $150,000.
$500,000 Verdict (Georgia 2021): A 50-something woman tripped and fell over protruding concrete on a sidewalk. She fractured her right humerus and sprained her neck, lower back, right foot, and right knee. The woman underwent an open reduction internal fixation procedure. She experienced residual right arm pain and diminished right arm mobility. The woman alleged negligence against the City of Atlanta. She claimed its failure to maintain the sidewalk created hazardous conditions. The jury awarded $500,000.
$259,000 Verdict (Georgia 2021): A woman slipped while shopping at Walmart. She grabbed onto a shopping cart to prevent her from falling. The woman’s tight grip caused a left thumb fracture. She underwent an open reduction internal fixation procedure. Two weeks later, the woman developed a MRSA infection. She spent two days hospitalized. The woman’s injuries significantly affected what she could do, including opening a jar and grasping items with her thumb. She alleged negligence against Walmart. The woman claimed it failed to maintain safe premises, warn customers of the heard, and inspect the premises. She received $259,000.
$98,000 Settlement (Georgia 2020): A woman slipped and fell into a water meter while walking on an Atlanta sidewalk. She suffered personal injuries. The woman alleged that the City of Atlanta’s negligence caused them. She claimed it improperly trained its employees on inspecting and maintaining the sidewalk. The woman settled with the city for $98,000.
$52,000 Verdict (Georgia 2019): A woman slipped and fell on spilled gasoline while outside of a QuikTrip gas station. She suffered personal injuries. The woman alleged that QuikTrip’s negligence caused her injuries. She claimed they failed to maintain and timely clean the premises. QuikTrip denied liability. They argued that its employees did not know of the spill. The Fulton County jury found the woman 40 percent liable and QuikTrip 60 percent liable. They awarded her $52,000.
$650,000 Verdict (Georgia 2018): A man stopped at a QuikTrip while on his way to work. He slipped and fell on black ice after exiting his car. The man suffered left leg and knee injuries. He underwent extensive surgeries. The man alleged that QuikTrip’s negligence caused his injuries. He claimed its employees failed to maintain safe premises, warn of black ice, and properly remove it. QuikTrip denied negligence. It argued comparative negligence. The Fulton County jury found the man 20 percent liable and QuikTrip 80 percent liable. They awarded him $650,000.
$45,000 Settlement (Georgia 2017): A woman participated in a running race held at a public park in Atlanta. After the event, she stepped on a maintenance hole cover that flipped over. The woman then fell into the maintenance hole. She suffered personal injuries. The woman alleged that the City of Atlanta’s failure to repair the defective cover caused them. This case settled for $45,000.
$700,000 Verdict (Georgia 2017): A man slipped and fell on a water puddle while at a Kroger. He suffered permanent injuries. The man and his wife alleged that Kroger’s negligence caused his injuries. They claimed it failed to clean the puddle and train its employees on maintaining safe premises. Kroger denied liability. They argued comparative negligence. The Douglas County jury awarded the man $700,000.
$15,000 Settlement (Georgia 2017): A woman fell into an uncovered maintenance hole. She suffered personal injuries. The woman alleged that the City of Atlanta’s failure to properly maintain the maintenance hole caused her injuries. This case settled for $15,000.
$100,000 Settlement (Georgia 2016): A woman slipped and fell on a defective sidewalk outside of a Marriott hotel in Atlanta. She suffered personal injuries. The woman alleged that the City of Atlanta and Marriott’s failure to properly maintain and inspect the sidewalk caused her injuries. This case settled for $100,000.
$125,000 Verdict (Georgia 2015): A man slipped on rocks and gravel intended for ice traction while at a transit station. He suffered a knee injury. The man underwent surgical repairs. The man alleged that the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA)’s failure to maintain safe premises caused his knee injury. A Fulton County jury awarded him a $125,000 verdict.
$90,000 Verdict (Georgia 2014): A 68-year-old woman tripped and fell over a cart stop bumper while shopping at Marshalls. The woman fractured her shoulder. She was immobile for several weeks. The woman suffered 13 percent permanent impairment to her left arm and 8 percent to her whole body. She alleged that Marshalls’ negligent placing of the cart stop bumper next to the restroom caused her injuries. Marshalls denied liability. It argued comparative negligence. A Gwinnett County jury awarded the woman a $90,000 verdict.
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