Ms. Williams was shopping with her daughter at Super 1 Foods grocery store when she noticed a wet floor sign while she was walking in the frozen food section. After she passed the sign, she slipped and fell on what she described as a “puddle of water” on the floor injuring herself.
Ms. Williams sued the store, which subsequently was dismissed from the case via summary judgment. On appeal, the court noted that in order for Ms. Williams to succeed on her claim under Louisiana’s merchant liability statute, La. R.S. 9:2800.6 (pdf), she had to prove 1) that the water on the floor existed and it presented an unreasonable risk of harm; 2) the store owner either created or had actual or constructive notice of the water; and 3) the store owner failed to exercise reasonable care. Applying these factors to the evidence in the record, the appellate court affirmed the summary dismissal of Ms. William’s claims against the store owner. In reaching its decision the appellate court considered the deposition testimony by two store employees, who both testified that the wet floor sign was placed in the area of the fall to warn customers of a faulty metal plate covering a floor drain. Ms. Williams, in turn, pointed to the deposition testimony of two other store employees who stated that they did not recall the faulty metal plate or the wet floor sign. She argued that the testimony of the store employees was inconsistent and that this inconsistency created a genuine issue of material fact. The court disagreed and found that Ms. Williams failed to present any evidence that the wet floor sign was placed there because of the water on the ground (as opposed to a faulty metal plate covering a floor drain). Ms. Williams also failed to otherwise satisfy the temporal element of her claim—that the alleged condition existed for some period of time prior to the fall.
Take-Away: The presence of a “wet floor sign” does not necessarily establish that there was water on the floor at the time of a patron’s fall, especially when there is an alternative explanation for the sign’s presence. Under those circumstances, a patron must show that the allegedly defective condition (in this case water on the floor) existed for some period of time prior to a fall.