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Watters v. Wal-Mart Louisiana, LLC

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

January 18, 2018

Eric Watters
v.
Wal-Mart Louisiana, LLC, et al.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          CAROL B. WHITEHURST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion For Summary Judgment filed by defendants, Wal-Mart Louisiana LLC and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (collectively, “Wal-Mart”) [Doc. 28]. Plaintiff Eric Watters opposes the motion [Doc. 34] and Wal-Mart has filed a Reply brief [Doc. 42]. For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         The following facts are undisputed:

• The plaintiff alleges he injured himself after his left foot caught the floor mount of a stainless steel guard rail surrounding a meat bunker at Wal-Mart Store No. 531 on May 3, 2016.
• The plaintiff alleges he was standing next to the floor cooler, facing forward and looking down at the merchandise inside the cooler. The plaintiff alleges his feet were under the rail that surrounds the cooler. The plaintiff alleges that to his left was a pallet full of inventory that was located approximately 2 inches from the rail and 4-5 inches from the floor cooler. The plaintiff alleges that he was scooting to his left between the floor cooler and the pallet filled with inventory in order to see the inventory in the floor cooler next to the pallet when his left foot came into contact with the mounting, causing him to trip.
• The guard rail system in place at Store No. 531 is a Star Guard product manufactured by SBI. SBI is one of four top manufacturers which offers a guard rail product of this design. This particular guard rail system is referred to as the SSB guard rail system. The SSB system consists of a horizontal stainless steel railing supported and attached to the floor by vertical floor mounts, which allow installation close to bunkers. The SSB system is used in grocery stores and retail stores with grocery departments to protect bunkers and coolers from damage.
• Wal-Mart argues the SSB guard rail system in place at Store No. 531 is the same system in place at all Wal-Mart stores and virtually every other grocery store in the nation, and that this system consists of the industry standard for protecting bunkers in grocery stores.
• Two of the top four manufacturers also offer a second design, the CB model, which is attached to the floor with a “C” shaped mount and is intended for high impact applications such as in warehouses, stock rooms, and cart corrals.
• Guard rails are necessary to protect the refrigerated bunkers from damage from shopping carts, pallet jacks, and other equipment. Without the guard rails, the electrical and plumbing components of the bunkers could be damaged, resulting in loss of product and threat of injury to customers, who could slip on liquid leaking from the broken bunker or be injured by protruding metal or other pieces of damaged bunker.
• As best evidenced by the photographs in this case, the SSB guard rail system is easily observable. It is chrome in color and consists of a railing completely surrounding the bunker, supported by several floor mounts, each approximately six and one-half (6 ½) inches tall.
• The SSB guard rail system does not violate any building code, ordinance, statute, or other safety regulation.
• There is no evidence that the CB system is safer or poses less of a tripping hazard than the SSB system. In fact, the CB system, which is ordinarily used in high impact applications where less customer traffic is expected, such as in warehouses and cart corrals, actually poses more of a tripping hazard, because the CB floor attachment extends above the floor which could cause a misstep, and because the mounting support extends beyond the face of the rail into the aisle space.
• The placement of the pallet next to the meat bunker in this case did not violate any Wal-Mart policy or safety code. The accident occurred at 9:45 p.m., and the pallet of canned goods was placed nearest the aisle where the goods were to be stocked.
• Since Wal-Mart Store No. 531 opened in 2000 until plaintiff's accident, there have been no other reported trip-and-fall accidents similar to plaintiff's involving the guard rail system, despite millions of customers having shopped at the meat bunkers during that time.

         Plaintiff filed this action in this Court on April 27, 2016. Wal-Mart filed the instant motion for summary judgment moving to dismiss plaintiff's claims against it on grounds plaintiff cannot prove that either the guard rail floor mount or the placement of the pallet in this case presented an unreasonable risk of harm to Wal-Mart customers or that such was reasonably foreseeable as required under Louisiana's slip-and-fall statute, La. Rev. Stat. §9:2800.6.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 instructs that summary judgment is proper if the record discloses no genuine issue as to any material fact such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. No genuine issue of fact exists if the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine issue of fact exists only “if the evidence is such that a ...


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