Establishing how long a dangerous condition has actually been present with any retail establishment continues to be a key element in establishing premises liability. In Abshire v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the plaintiff alleged that she slipped and fell on an oily substance which later turned out to be potpourri oil. Hobby Lobby moved for summary judgment on the basis that there was no evidence that any of its employees had spilled oil nor was there any evidence of how long the oil had been on the floor. Finding that the spilled oil was a condition of the premises, the court applied the provisions of the Louisiana Slip and Fall Statute (pdf) and held that the plaintiff had to make a positive showing of the existence of the condition prior to the fall. Whether the period of time that the condition existed was sufficiently lengthy to require discovery by a merchant was necessarily a fact question, however, the prerequisite of showing that it at least existed for some period of time prior to the fall was an essential element of the plaintiff’s case. Here, noting that the plaintiff did not know how long the potpourri oil had been on the floor prior to her fall and did not know how the bottle came to be on a different aisle from where it was stored, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the store owner.
Take-Away: This case reinforces the requirement that a plaintiff at least produce some evidence as to how long an allegedly dangerous condition existed on the floor of the premises before he/she can state a prima facie case of liability. Here, it was clear that the plaintiff had absolutely no evidence (she did not even file an opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment) which would demonstrate how long that the substance at issue – potpourri oil – had been on the floor or how it had come to be found in an aisle other than where it was originally located. Based on the lack of sufficient evidence, the Court was correct in granting summary judgment.