French Fry "Rim" Sinks Restaurant's Motion for Summary Judgment

Although the Louisiana Slip and Fall Statute (pdf) provides a narrow avenue of potential liability, the Louisiana First Circuit’s May 8, 2009 decision in Guillory v. Outback Steakhouse of Florida, Inc. (pdf) demonstrates the relatively low evidentiary threshold that is needed to circumvent the defenses supplied under the statute. On January 28, 2006, Geraldine Guillory visited an Outback Steakhouse in East Baton Rouge Parish.  During her visit,  Ms. Guillory excused herself to visit the restroom and upon returning, Guillory allegedly slipped on a french fry and fell to the floor. A waitress who was standing at a nearby table picked up the remains of the potato while another customer helped Ms. Guillory to her feet. Guillory and her husband filed suit against Outback alleging various injuries associated with the fall. 

After the completion of discovery, Outback filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis that the Plaintiffs could not offer sufficient evidence that it had knowledge of the alleged dangerous condition (the french fry) as required under Louisiana Revised Statute 9:2800.6 (pdf). The trial court agreed and granted the Motion for Summary Judgment.  On appeal, however, the First Circuit disagreed and reinstated the case against Outback. After reciting the Louisiana Slip and Fall Statute, the First Circuit recognized that a merchant cannot be liable for injuries associated with a slip-and-fall unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the slip-and-fall was caused by a “dangerous condition” on the property, that the merchant had actual or “constructive” knowledge of the condition and, despite this knowledge, failed to exercise reasonable care. Because the plaintiffs could produce no evidence as to how the french fry ended up on the floor, the First Circuit correctly reasoned that the case would turn on whether the plaintiffs had provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate “constructive” knowledge.  Citing the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision in White v. Wal-Mart, the First Circuit reasoned that in order to demonstrate “constructive” knowledge, the plaintiffs need only show that the condition existed for “some period of time.” 

Applying the “some period of time” standard, the First Circuit re-analyzed the testimony of the case and reversed Outback’s dismissal. The First Circuit relied principally upon the testimony of two Outback employees who testified that the french fry was “stuck to the floor” and that a “rim” had remained after it was picked up. This, together with hearsay statements of patrons that they had “seen” a piece of french fry on the floor, was sufficient for the First Circuit to conclude that there existed sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Outback had “constructive” knowledge of the dangerous condition. 

Take-Away:  This case demonstrates that even the slightest evidence can sometimes defeat a summary judgment motion. Although the plaintiffs could not demonstrate that any Outback employee was responsible for the fry falling to the floor, could not demonstrate that an Outback employee had seen the fry and failed to respond to it, could not demonstrate exactly when the fry fell to the floor, and offered no evidence of how it could have become stuck for a sufficient amount of time to form a “rim,” these deficiencies were not so great as to preclude the case from going to trial.

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