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Bad Trip Not Store’s Fault
by Ron Davis
A hazard that existed for only seconds has created major legal problems for Big Lots Stores, Inc., following a trip-and-fall incident.
That hazard, a floor mat that became accidentally doubled over only in part, occurred at a Big Lots store in Memphis, TN. But the result was a lawsuit against the company after an elderly woman tripped on the furled mat and suffered physical injuries.
The woman, who uses a walking cane, had entered the store just after another customer who was pushing a shopping cart. A surveillance camera at the entrance shows that the first customer’s cart inadvertently overturned a corner of the floor mat. When the woman then stepped on the mat seconds later, she stumbled and fell to the floor. Her trip and fall were also captured by the camera.
As a result of her injuries, she sued Big Lots. In her lawsuit, she claimed that the folded-over mat was a dangerous condition and that Big Lots personnel either knew or should have known about that condition.
In fact, the folded-over portion of the mat was apparently in plain view. Also, an assistant manager was within a few feet of the mat, helping another customer at the store’s service desk. And a policy of the store is to keep all floor mats flattened.
The surveillance camera showed, however, that from the time the mat became folded over until the woman tripped and fell, a mere 21 seconds had elapsed. Moreover, the camera showed that at the time of the accident the assistant manager who was nearby was directing his full attention to the customer he was aiding.
At trial, a jury repeatedly viewed the video of the incident. Their verdict was that Big Lots was 80 percent at fault and the woman was 20 percent at fault. The trial judge awarded the injured woman $320,000.
Big Lots appealed that verdict.
A Tennessee appellate court reversed the decision and award of the lower court, explaining, “Because of the short amount of time that passed from the furling of the mat to the woman’s fall, we do not believe that there was material evidence to support a finding that Big Lots had constructive notice or ‘should have known’ of the condition of the mat…. Because the surveillance video is the only evidence that Big Lots had actual notice of the furled condition of the mat, we must conclude that there was no material evidence to support the jury’s verdict…. The judgment of the trial court is reversed and the case is dismissed.” (Perkins v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., 2009 WL 1409706 [Tenn.Ct.App.])
Decision: May 2009
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