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Buchanan v. Wal-Mart Louisiana, LLC

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

December 18, 2019

LISA BUCHANAN
v.
WAL-MART LOUISIANA, LLC, ET AL.

          MAG. JUDGE PEREZ-MONTES

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          DEE D. DRELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by defendants, Wal-Mart Louisiana, LLC and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (collectively referred to as "Wal-Mart") in the above captioned personal injury suit. For the reasons explained herein, the motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED in full, dismissing all claims asserted by plaintiff, Lisa Buchanan ("Buchanan").

         Background

         On June 20, 2016, Buchanan fell in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart store in Jena, Louisiana. According to Buchanan, she stepped on an uneven expansion joint between two portions of the parking surface which caused her left ankle to twist and her to fall. She sustained an injury to her right knee for which she underwent a knee replacement.

         Physical evidence in this case consists of a Wal-Mart surveillance video of the parking lot and photographs taken by Wal-Mart's Asset Protection Associate, Brad Harrington. (Docs 33-2 and 42-4, p.64 and 42-5-5, p.4-8).

         The surveillance video shows Buchanan's white SUV pulling into a parking space located between a lawn and garden display set up in the parking lot and a yellow striped area adjacent to the crosswalk to the lawn and garden entrance of the store. A smaller square portion of the striped area is protected by stanchion posts painted bright yellow. Buchanan's door is about even with this stanchioned area.

         Buchanan exits her vehicle, obtains a shopping cart, and peruses the lawn and garden display. She then traverses the parking lot, through the crosswalk and goes out of view. Minutes later, Buchanan is seen walking to her car via the crosswalk. As she exits the crosswalk and enters the yellow striped area, she looks to her right, takes a few steps, her left foot steps on the uneven area between the concrete slabs, and she falls.

         The pictures, which were taken after the date of the fall, depict the yellow striped area from the vantage point of the parking lot. As with the surveillance video, the uneven span of concrete is obvious to the naked eye. Close-up photos of the expansion joint and concrete slabs at issue show a vertical variation in height of approximately one inch. No. other defects or hazards are visible.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 provides that any party may move for summary judgment as to one or more claims or defenses. "Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Analysis

         The law applicable to merchant premises liability matters, such as the one before the court, is found in Louisiana Revised Statute 9:2800.6. Section A of the statute explains that, "[a] merchant owes a duty to persons who use his premises to exercise reasonable care to keep his aisles, passageways, and floors in a reasonably safe condition. The duty includes a reasonable effort to keep the premises free of any hazardous conditions which might reasonably give rise to damage." La. R.S 9:2800.6(A). Section B of the same statute explains that a plaintiff who brings a case against the merchant for injury, death or loss sustained because of a fall due to a condition existing in or on the merchant's premises must prove: (1) the condition presented an unreasonable risk of harm to the claimant and that risk of harm was reasonably foreseeable; (2) the merchant either created or had actual or constructive notice of the condition which caused the damage, prior to the occurrence; and (3) the merchant failed to exercise reasonable care." La.R.S. 9:2800.6(B). Failure to prove any one of these factors is fatal to her case. White v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 699 So.2dl081(La. 1997).

         Neither the case law, plaintiffs expert witness, nor argument or evidence presented by Buchanan creates a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the uneven pavement presenting an unreasonable risk of harm. Buchanan attempts to first create such an issue by establishing that the vertical difference in height between the two slabs of concrete was unreasonably high. She relies upon her own deposition testimony where she estimated the difference in height to be 1.5 to 2 inches. This statement is directly controverted by Wal-Mart's physical evidence which show a ...


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