The 5th Circuit affirmed summary judgment last week for Lowe’s Home Centers in a Louisiana case that points out some interesting issues that arise in many slip and fall cases.
Plaintiff was walking down an aisle at a Lowe’s and slipped and fell after passing a merchandise pallet filled with light bulbs. Plaintiff had a friend with her who was following close behind her. Plaintiff’s lawsuit claimed that the fall was caused by a board that was coming out from the bottom of this light bulb pallet. Yet neither Plaintiff or her friend actually saw the board she tripped over. Instead, her friend says that he noticed the board only after plaintiff fell and he just put 2 and 2 together. Lowe’s claims, naturally, nothing was out of the ordinary after the fall.
One big problem for plaintiff: the Louisiana Merchant Liability Act. This Louisiana law places a “heavy burden of proof on plaintiffs in claims against a merchant for damages arising out of a fall on the premises.”
The trial court assumed for purposes of defendant’s summary judgment a fact Lowe’s would for sure fight at trial: that plaintiff’s fall was caused by a dangerously protruding board protruding from a merchandise pallet. Lowe’s argued that plaintiff had no evidence that Lowe’s created or had notice of the dangerous condition. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment.
The 5th Circuit concurred. The court found that while coming up with some interesting theories – first asserting that her fall was caused by that board only to later claim it was the positioning of the pallet— plaintiff’s claim was barred under both theories. The court also shot down the idea that the court should have allowed for further discovery by taking the usual path: great deference to the trial judge on the administration of discovery.
You can find the Ferrant v Lowe’s here.