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Harris v. Kroger Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

December 15, 2017

DOROTHY HARRIS, ET AL
v.
KROGER CO.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          Mark L. Hornsby U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Introduction

         Dorothy Harris, an 82-year-old woman with vision problems, was shopping at a Kroger store on Barksdale Blvd. in Bossier City when she visited the restroom, which was located in an employee breakroom in the back of the store. After leaving the bathroom, and just after she exited the breakroom, Mrs. Harris fell and broke her right arm. She and her husband filed suit against Kroger in state court and alleged that her fall was caused by a flatbed stocking cart that was parked outside the breakroom door.

         Kroger removed the case based on diversity jurisdiction. All parties filed written consent to have the case decided by the undersigned magistrate judge, and the matter was referred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Before the court is Kroger's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 11). The motion will be granted because, as explained below, Harris does not have proof that the stocking cart caused her fall.

         Relevant Facts

         Dorothy Harris, age 82, visited the Kroger store on Barksdale Blvd. in Bossier City with her husband, Thomas Harris. Mrs. Harris testified that she has vision problems and has been receiving vision-related disability benefits since 1980. She has received four cornea transplants in her left eye, and she drives only in an emergency. She testified that she does not have significant problems with her right eye.

         The entry to the only restrooms in the Kroger store was outside of the normal shopping area. To get to the restrooms, a customer had to walk through a set of double doors into what the parties call a back room. Photographs indicate that it is predominantly a stockroom or warehouse type area that contains several crates and racks that hold boxes of products. The customer enters through the double doors and must walk about 20 feet straight ahead before turning left, through an open doorway, into the employee breakroom. The customer restrooms are accessible from the breakroom. The manager testified that these are the only restrooms in the store, customers are allowed to use them, and they routinely do so.

         Photographs of the doorway into the breakroom show a Coca Cola vending machine against the wall to the immediate right of the door. To the immediate left of the door (the side from which Mrs. Harris would have approached the doorway as she entered the breakroom) there was a rack against the wall that held some boxes. The stocking cart at issue was parked immediately in front of the rack. The cart is a flat metal bed, about eight inches off the ground, with about a three feet tall handle on the end of the cart that was nearest the doorway. The rack and the cart did not protrude into the doorway, but they were snug against its left side, as the vending machine was snug against the right side.

         When Mrs. Harris walked through the double doors, she saw Bobby Merritt, a Coca Cola employee who was servicing the vending machine. She asked Merritt where the bathrooms were located, and he pointed her to the breakroom area. Merritt testified in an affidavit that he saw Mrs. Harris walk past the stocking cart (on her left), which was parallel to the wall and against the rack, and turn left into the breakroom. He said that it appeared she had on some kind of sunglasses.

         When Mrs. Harris left the breakroom on her way back to the store, she took a right turn as she exited the breakroom door. She testified that she “took a few steps” and, “The next thing I know, I am lying flat on my face on the floor.” She said that she fell forward but, to her knowledge, she did not hit anything other than the floor on her way down. The following exchange occurred during a discussion of the cause of the fall:

Q Did you hit anything on the way down or before you fell?
A Just the floor.
Q Do you know what it was that caused you ...

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