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Schilling v. Petsmart, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 23, 2018

PATRICIA SCHILLING
v.
PETSMART, INC., ET AL

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 11) and the Motion to Strike (Doc. 20) by Defendant PetSmart, Inc. Plaintiff Patricia Schilling filed oppositions. (Docs. 17 and 24). For the following reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 11) is DENIED and the Motion to Strike (Doc. 20) is DENIED AS MOOT.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a slip and fall case. The facts taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiff are as follows. On January 2, 2017, Plaintiff walked into a PetSmart store in Denham Springs, Louisiana. (Doc. 11-2 at 23:13-21, 25:13-26:11). It had been raining hard that day and for several days beforehand. Id. at 24:2-3; Doc. 11-3 at 65:5-7. Plaintiff walked through the store's exterior automatic sliding doors into the store's vestibule and wiped her feet on a rubber floor mat. (Doc. 11-2 at 26:13-19; Doc. 11-3 at 27:7-8). The store has a set of exterior automatic sliding doors and a vestibule that is eight to ten feet long that leads to another set of interior automatic sliding doors that leads inside of the store. (Doc. 11-3 at 26:5-24). The rubber floor mat in the vestibule is about six feet long. Id. at 27:3-5.

         After wiping her feet on the floor mat, Plaintiff walked to her left onto a concrete floor to get a shopping cart, when all of a sudden Plaintiffs "feet went flying from under her." (Doc. 11-2 at 26:13-19). Plaintiff did not see any water after walking inside and wiping her feet on the mat. Id. at 28:16-21. After she fell, though, Plaintiff saw several puddles of water between the floor mat and the sliding doors. Id. at 29:13-16. The floor also felt "damp." Id. Plaintiff was then taken by ambulance to a local emergency room. Id. at 39:9-15. She was in a lot of pain, and she underwent a total hip replacement surgery the next day. Id. at 49:17-19.

         Earlier that day, PetSmart's store manager had placed a wet floor sign inside of the vestibule, but it kept blowing over. (Doc. 11-3 at 36:5-10; 85:23-25). As a result, she placed it inside the store rather than in the vestibule, several feet beyond the interior sliding doors of the entrance, so that it did not fall down and pose a tripping hazard. (Doc. 11-3 at Exhibit 4; 36:5-10; 85:23-25; 84:2-6). Plaintiff, however, did not see the wet floor sign when she walked in the first set of exterior doors and fell. (Doc. 11-2 at 33:5-18). Throughout the day, the store manager had also looked to see if the vestibule area was wet, and she did not see any standing water on the concrete floor where the shopping carts were located. (Doc. 11-3 at 32:3-24; 35:18-21). It is also PetSmart's store policy to have employees periodically monitor the vestibule for water, but there is no set time period or schedule for doing so. Id. at 84:19:25.

         Plaintiff claims that PetSmart is liable for damages because it acted negligently. (Doc. 1-1 at p. 3). Plaintiff sued PetSmart and ABC Insurance Company on June 6, 2017 in the 21st Judicial District Court, Parish of Livingston, Louisiana. (Doc. 1-1 at p. 2). Invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction, Defendant removed the case to this Court a month later. (Doc. 1).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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 the movant is entitled to summary judgment, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draws all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Coleman v. Hous. Indep. Sch. Dist., 113 F.3d 528, 533 (5th Cir. 1997). At this stage, the Court does not evaluate the credibility of witnesses, weigh the evidence, or resolve factual disputes. Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Under Louisiana law, a plaintiff seeking damages against a merchant in a slip and fall case has the burden of proving that a condition on the premises presented: (1) an unreasonable risk of harm and that this harm was reasonably foreseeable; (2) that the merchant either created or had actual or constructive notice of the condition and; (3) that the merchant failed to exercise reasonable care. La. R.S. 9:2800.6(B). "The burden of proof does not shift to the defendant at any point and failure to prove any one of these elements negates a plaintiffs cause of action." Melancon v. Popeye's Famous Fried Chicken, 59 So.3d 513, 515 (La.App. Ct. 2011) (citing White v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 699 So.2d 1081 (La. 1997)).

         A. Unreasonable Risk of Harm That Was Reasonably Foreseeable

         The first issue is whether the floor presented an unreasonable risk of harm and that harm was reasonably foreseeable. Defendant contends that there was no condition that presented an unreasonable risk of harm because there was no water on the vestibule floor. (Doc 11-1 at p. 8). If there is a puddle of water on a floor or a floor mat is saturated with water in a high traffic area, the floor poses an unreasonable risk of harm that is reasonably foreseeable. See Barton v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 704 So.2d 361, 367 (La. Ct. App. 1997); Oalmann v. K-Mart Corp., 630 So.2d 911, 913 (La. Ct. App. 1993). In Barton, for example, the court concluded that a floor presented an unreasonable risk of harm that was reasonably foreseeable because it was raining, the store failed to change its floor mats in a high traffic area once they became wet, and the plaintiff testified that the floor he fell on was wet. Id; see also Oalmann, 630 So.2d at 913 (finding that a puddle of water on a K-Mart floor created an unreasonable risk of harm that was reasonably foreseeable).

         Here, it was raining the day Plaintiff fell, she testified that she saw puddles of water on the floor after she fell, (Doc 11-2 at pp. 29:13-16), and the Defendant's store manager admitted that the floor mat had never been changed. True enough, the manager testified that she did not see any water on the floor, (Doc 11-3 at p. 35:18-21, 88:9-:24), but the Court must make all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs favor, and therefore it is reasonable to infer that the floor mat was saturated with water because it was windy and rainy the day Plaintiff fell. The Court therefore ...


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