You can find everything at Wal-Mart. Except maybe a sponge.
Leoncio Garcia went to a Wal-Mart store in Houston, Texas at 6:21am on 9 June 2015. Twenty-five minutes earlier a floor-scrubbing machine operated by a Wal-Mart employee had passed over – and briefly paused at – a point where the floor surface changed from vinyl to tiles. It was this point where Mr Garcia slipped and fell, suffering a knee injury. An employee of the store then put a warning cone down on the floor because she saw a liquid at the sit of the fall.
Mr Garcia sued Wal-Mart for his injuries. Wal-Mart responded that there was no evidence that it knew of the hazard before the accident. It applied for summary judgment which was granted: Garcia v Wal-Mart Stores Texas LLC (US Dist. Ct SD Tex., Gilmore J, 9 June 2017, unreported). The plaintiff appealed.
The appeal was upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal. The Court noted that four things must be proved in an occupiers liability claim:
- That the owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard.
- That the hazard presented an unreasonable risk of harm.
- That the owner failed to take reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk.
- That the risk was the proximate cause of the injury.
Knowledge could be established by (inter alia) showing that the owner had placed the substance on the floor. Garcia’s case was that there was circumstantial evidence that the fluid came from the scrubber, thereby meeting the knowledge requirement. Because this was more plausible than Wal-Mart’s alternative explanations, it was appropriate for the factual dispute to be returned to the trial court for decision.
Garcia v Wal-Mart Stores Texas LLC (US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, 18 June 2018)