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Hart v. Walmart Stores East L.P.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division

December 29, 2017

DAVID HART, Plaintiff,
v.
WALMART STORES EAST L.P., Defendant.

          ORDER

          CLAY D. LAND CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiff David Hart went to the Walmart on Victory Drive in Columbus, Georgia. It was a rainy day, and the sidewalk was wet. As Hart entered the Walmart garden center door, he slipped and fell. Hart brought this action against Walmart, arguing that the entrance to the garden center was poorly designed and that this poor design, combined with the rainwater, caused him to fall. Walmart seeks summary judgment on Hart's claims. As discussed below, Walmart's motion (ECF No. 9) is granted in part and denied in part.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment may be granted only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, drawing all justifiable inferences in the opposing party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A fact is material if it is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Viewed in the light most favorable to Hart, the record reveals the following facts. Hart drove to the Walmart on Victory Drive in Columbus, Georgia. He parked his car and walked to the garden center. It was raining, and the sidewalk was wet. The automatic doors to the garden center were turned off, and a Walmart associate manually opened the doors for Hart. Hart took one step inside the doors, slipped, and fell.

         Hart knew that it was raining, he knew that the sidewalk outside the store was wet, he knew that the rainwater could be tracked into the store, and he knew that a floor can be slippery if it is wet. Hart presented evidence that the walking surface leading into the garden center has a slight downward slope toward a drain inside the door. And, there is a transition from brush finish concrete to smooth finish concrete. Hart testified that he expected a wet floor but did not expect a “downhill slick floor.” Hart Dep. 53:14-24, ECF No. 11. According to Hart's expert witness, an architect, the entrance to the garden center “does not comply with minimum building code standards" because of "walkway conditions that contain uneven floor levels, non-uniform floor surface finishes, and non-uniform slip resistance in an area where wet conditions are expected." Barnes Aff. Ex. A, Inspection Report 2, ECF No. 12-1 at 25.

         A surveillance video captured the following image of Hart's fall:

         (Image Omitted)

         Hart Dep. Ex. 2, ECF No. 11 at 28.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Hart's Premises Liability Claim

         "To recover on a theory of premises liability, a plaintiff must show injury caused by a hazard on an owner or occupier of land's premises or approaches that the owner or occupier should have removed in the exercise of ordinary care for the safety of the invited public.” Am. Multi-Cinema, Inc. v. Brown, 679 S.E.2d 25, 27 (Ga. 2009).[1] “‘In premises liability cases, proof of a fall, without more, does not give rise to liability on the part of a proprietor, ' because ‘[t]he true basis of a proprietor's liability for personal injury to an invitee is the proprietor's superior knowledge of a condition that may expose the invitee[] to an unreasonable risk of harm.'” Drew v. Istar Fin., Inc., 661 S.E.2d 686, 689 (Ga.Ct.App. 2008) (alterations in original) (quoting Sunlink Health Sys. v. Pettigrew, 649 S.E.2d 532 (Ga.Ct.App. 2007)).

         To survive a summary judgment motion in a slip-and-fall case, “a plaintiff must come forward with evidence that, viewed in the most favorable light, would enable a rational trier of fact to find that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard.” Am. Multi-Cinema, Inc., 679 S.E.2d at 28. “At that point, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to produce evidence that the plaintiff's injury was caused by his or her own voluntary negligence (intentional disregard of a known risk) or causal negligence (failure to exercise ordinary care for one's personal safety).” Id. “If the defendant succeeds in doing so, the burden of production shifts back to the plaintiff to come forward with evidence that creates a genuine dispute of fact ...


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