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Matlock v. Brookshire Grocery Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

November 20, 2019

WILLIAM BOYD MATLOCK Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
BROOKSHIRE GROCERY COMPANY Defendant-Appellee

          Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2018-2183 Honorable Wilson Rambo, Judge

          ANTHONY J. BRUSCATO Counsel for Appellant

          HUDSON, POTTS & BERNSTEIN By: Donald H. Zeigler, III Counsel for Appellee

          Before PITMAN, GARRETT, and STEPHENS, JJ.

          STEPHENS, J.

         William Boyd Matlock appeals a judgment of the Fourth Judicial District Court, Parish of Ouachita, State of Louisiana, granting a motion for summary judgment by Brookshire Grocery Company and dismissing Matlock's claim with prejudice. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This matter arises out of injuries plaintiff, William Boyd Matlock, sustained on September 3, 2016, when he slipped and fell in the produce section of a Super 1 grocery store (the "store"), operated by defendant, Brookshire Grocery Company ("Brookshire"), in Monroe, Louisiana. Matlock was taken from the store by ambulance to St. Francis Medical Center for neck, shoulder, and knee pain, and numbness in the tips of his fingers and toes. He subsequently received additional treatment at Louisiana Pain Care and North Louisiana Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Clinic. On November 10, 2016, Matlock filed a petition for damages against Brookshire.[1] Following discovery and the taking of depositions, Brookshire filed a motion for summary judgment on December 19, 2018.

         Brookshire argued in its memorandum in support of the motion that Matlock would not be able to prove an essential element of its claim against Brookshire-that Brookshire either created a condition that presented an unreasonable risk of harm or had actual or constructive notice of such a condition prior to the incident. Brookshire submitted an incident report completed by the store's assistant manager, Chris Baker. The report states Matlock fell near the watermelon bins, where a "milky/clear" puddle of watermelon juice was standing on the floor, roughly 18 inches in diameter. The report further indicated there were two "wet floor signs" placed in the area at the time of Matlock's fall. Attached to the report were photographs of the puddle taken immediately after the incident.

         Brookshire also submitted affidavits of four store employees, including Baker, and the produce manager, Stewart Bodie. All four employees testified they were on duty when Matlock fell but did not witness the incident, place any liquid substance on the floor that caused Matlock to slip, or have any knowledge of the substance's existence on the floor prior to the incident. Baker further testified he had visited other grocery stores in the Monroe area and photographed their watermelon displays. Those photographs were attached to Baker's affidavit along with a photograph of the watermelon display that was in place in the store when the incident occurred. [2] Additionally, store employees Derrick Morrison and Patrick Reeves testified they were in the area 2 and 22 minutes, respectively, prior to Matlock's fall, at which times there was no watermelon juice or other liquid substance on the floor where Matlock would later fall.

         In further support of its motion, Brookshire submitted the deposition of Matlock, wherein he testified that prior to his fall, he did not see the puddle on the floor or any buggy marks or tracks or footprints through the liquid. Matlock stated the liquid probably covered "about a two- or three- foot little area." He further testified that other than having overheard an employee state the liquid appeared to be watermelon juice, he did not know where it came from. Matlock testified, "[the liquid] seemed like it must not have been there too long ahead . . . and if it'd been there very long, I probably would've seen it." He stated while "wet floor" cones appear "everywhere in the store," there was not one at the spot of his fall; however, after falling, while still lying on the floor, he noticed a cone he had not seen before, which was located two or three feet away.

         In opposition to Brookshire's motion, Matlock argued there existed genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Brookshire knew of the risk of leaking watermelons and failed to prevent it by inspecting the watermelons or placing an absorbent material beneath the bins and regarding how long the watermelon juice was on the floor before Matlock slipped in it. In support of his position, Matlock submitted photographs from the scene, the same ones attached to the incident report, and the surveillance video from the store showing the area in which the accident occurred. The video includes footage from the produce section of the store and shows the watermelons were displayed in a large cardboard bin that was placed on wooden pallets. While the view of Matlock's actual fall is obstructed by produce containers, the footage shows the following notable activity:

2:22 p.m. A female shopper traverses back and forth over the incident site several times.
2:25 p.m. A male shopper traverses the incident site.
2:28 p.m. Another female shopper traverses the incident site.
2:28 p.m. A store employee enters the area.
2:36 p.m. Another female shopper traverses the incident site.
2:44 p.m. A small female child traverses the incident site and ...

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