In these two lawsuits, the evidence collected from the accidents played a key role in the outcome of each case.
On June 22, 2005, at 2:15 p.m., Claudia Gonzalez slipped and fell on a wet floor in the freezer aisle of Buy Low Market. Acting on a referral from the store, she went to a clinic six days later. She filed a lawsuit on Nov. 20, 2006.
Though Gonzales alleged injuries to her left knee, right ankle and groin, she was found with no objective sign of injury at the time. She claimed the fall was caused by water on the floor because a half-empty container was found inside a cooler next to the accident site.
To show it had inspected the site before the accident, the store produced a signed sweep sheet with an entry from the employee who completed it at 2 p.m. The worker who made the entry was not available to testify, but the assistant store manager on duty at the time said he had walked through the aisle approximately five minutes after the accident and did not see any liquid on the floor.
He also confirmed that he saw the entry on the sweep sheet by the time the accident happened, and that it was not added afterward in an effort to conceal the fact that an inspection had not taken place.
Doctors for the defense testified that Gonzalez’s medical complaints two years later were not consistent with the injuries she should have sustained from the accident. In the end, the jury ruled that Buy Low Market was not negligent.
On the afternoon of April 13, 2005, Jill Haney was shopping in a Wal-Mart store. An employee, who was standing on a ladder, lost control of a box and dropped it from 10 feet up, hitting Haney’s shoulder. Initially, she told the worker she was OK. But as she continued shopping, she began to experience numbness on her left side. She reported the incident to management, and saw a doctor on her own the next day.
The impact of the box had torn her shoulder, leading to thoracic outlet syndrome, surgery and medical expenses amounting to $100,000. Haney filed a lawsuit on Aug. 8, 2006.
The employee admitted dropping a box. But because Haney was slightly behind him, he didn’t actually see it hit her. Therefore, Wal-Mart denied that the box struck Haney, or claimed that even if it had, it was not the cause of her serious injury.
Though Haney said the box weighed approximately 15- to 20 pounds, Wal-Mart claimed it weighed much less. Because the employee had not saved the actual box, the company had to produce a box that it said was similar.
The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded Haney a total of $335,000 plus statutory interest beginning from the date of the incident. Her husband, Joseph Haney, who claimed loss of consortium, received nothing.
- Falling out of Trouble
Retail accidents can happen anytime. But several safeguards can help protect store owners against legal repercussions.
- Defining slip-and-fall accidents