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Stark v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 25, 2019

WILLIAM A. STARK
v.
HOME DEPOT U.S.A., INC.

         SECTION: T(3)

          ORDER

          GREG GERARD GUIDRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment[1] and reply brief[2] filed by the defendant, Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. (“Home Depot”). William A. Stark (“Plaintiff”) has filed an opposition[3] and a surreply brief.[4] For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit involves Plaintiff’s negligence claim arising out of an injury incurred while transporting a water heater from Home Depot.[5] Plaintiff testified that he entered Home Depot on October 17, 2017, and told two employees he would need some help because he wanted to buy a water heater.[6] One of the employees walked away without saying anything, and the other said “I’ll meet you back there.”[7] Plaintiff located the water heater and “walked it out into the aisle” while he was waiting on the store associate.[8] The store associate showed up with a yellow dolly, pushed it up against the water heater, and said “I’ll hold the dolly and you get it on there.”[9] Plaintiff placed the water heater onto the dolly and “pushed his neck out of place” in the process.[10]

         Plaintiff brought this action asserting a negligence claim against Home Depot seeking damages for his injuries.[11] Home Depot now moves for summary judgment contending the undisputed material facts demonstrate that Home Depot did not have a duty to assist Plaintiff and that Plaintiff cannot establish causation to support a negligence claim.[12] Plaintiff’s opposition asserts that, although there is no case on point regarding a retailer’s duty to render assistance to a customer, the Louisiana Supreme Court would find a duty to assist in the present case.[13] Plaintiff also argues there are disputed facts regarding the issue of fault.[14]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is proper where “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.”[15] “The evidence should be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and this court should refrain from making credibility determinations or from weighing the evidence.”[16] A genuine dispute of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”[17]

         In resolving negligence cases, Louisiana employs a duty-risk analysis, whereby a plaintiff must establish: (1) the defendant had a duty to conform his conduct to a specific standard; (2) the defendant failed to conform his conduct to the appropriate standard; (3) the defendant's substandard conduct was a cause-in-fact of the injuries; (4) the defendant's substandard conduct was a legal cause of the injuries; and (5) proof of actual damages.[18] Both Louisiana courts and federal courts applying Louisiana law routinely grant motions for summary judgment dismissing tort claims when plaintiffs cannot produce evidence of all five elements.[19]

         Home Depot argues that it had no duty to assist Plaintiff in this case.[20] Whether a duty is owed is a question of law.[21] The inquiry is whether the plaintiff has any law (statutory, jurisprudential, or arising from general principles of fault) to support the claim that the defendant owed him a duty.[22] In this case, Home Depot correctly points out that there is no duty requiring a merchant to assist a customer under Louisiana law.[23] The Louisiana cases cited by Home Depot declined to impose a duty to assist under the circumstances presented.[24] In Hendricks v. Maison Blanche Co., the court found there was no duty to assist a customer stepping down from a shoeshine stand.[25] In Griffin v. Danos & Curole Marine Contractors, Inc., the court found there was no duty to assist in unloading a truck.[26] Plaintiff has failed to cite any authority establishing a duty to assist under Louisiana law.

         Home Depot further argues that it had no duty to assist Plaintiff because the potentially hazardous condition was open and obvious.[27] Under Louisiana law, “a defendant generally does not have a duty to protect against that which is obvious and apparent.”[28] In this case, Plaintiff testified he did not need a warning label to know it would take more than one person to lift the water heater.[29] Plaintiff also testified he knew the water heater and the box weighed about 100 pounds, [30] and he has purchased hot water heaters in the past.[31] Thus, the admissible summary judgment evidence supports that the danger associated with lifting a hot water heater was open, obvious, and known to the Plaintiff.

         The Court finds that Home Depot did not have a duty to assist Plaintiff in this case because Louisiana law does not impose a duty on merchants to assist customers in lifting products and the danger of lifting the water heater was open and obvious. Because Home Depot did not have duty to assist Plaintiff in this case, Home Depot is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         CONCLUSION

         Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. Plaintiffs ...


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