Nicholas Malfitano Feb. 24, 2016, 12:31pm


PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed she suffered knee injuries in a fall at a King of Prussia Target store.

Judge Gerald J. Pappert ruled to dismiss a suit brought by Pamela Carter-Butler of Pottstown against Target Corporation, for injuries she claimed to have suffered after falling over an allegedly unsecured clothing rack on Aug. 23, 2014.

On that day, Carter-Butler was shopping in the girls section of the King of Prussia Target store when, according to her initial incident report, “her foot went under the rack and she fell.”

But during a later deposition, Carter-Butler testified that “she fell after her shopping cart hit the rack, causing the rack to come apart and trip her," and that “her cart flew out and the rack went in another direction.”

The incident was captured on the store’s surveillance video and according to Pappert, contradicted Carter-Butler’s account of the events in question.

“For example, the video shows that her cart never strikes the rack, and thus could not have caused it to ‘come apart.’ In fact, at the time of her fall, she is not using the cart or moving it in any way,” Pappert said. “Carter-Butler also testified that she was down on the ground for ten minutes. In fact, she was down on the ground for less than thirty seconds.”

Pappert said Carter-Butler’s testimony that she did not see any debris or clutter on the floor where she tripped was “of greater relevance.” She also stated that the area was well-lit and that nothing about the displays in the store caused her concern – an account backed up by Target store personnel who reviewed the surveillance video.

In the fall, Carter-Butler suffered torn cartilage (which she says required arthroscopic surgery), inflamed joint linings and loose pieces of the joint. Carter-Butler filed her negligence complaint in July based on a premises liability theory, and Target filed a response motion for summary judgment in January.

It became Carter-Butler’s burden of proof to show that Target had a duty for her to use the store safely, Target breached that duty, a connection between the alleged breach and her injury and actual damages, in addition to showing evidence of a hazardous or dangerous condition.

Pappert believed Carter-Butler failed to meet this evidentiary burden of proof.

“Nothing in the record supports a finding that a clothing rack with wheels constitutes a condition ‘from which an inference of negligence would arise,'” Pappert said. “Similarly, the question here is whether a clothing rack with wheels created a condition so obviously dangerous that a reasonable fact-finder could infer that Target was negligent.”

Pappert added Carter-Butler assumed a reasonable juror could infer that the rack was hazardous simply because she fell – an inference Pappert termed as “sheer speculation.”

“If anything, the record establishes that the racks are specifically made with wheels to prevent injuries when customers strike the racks with their carts. Carter-Butler therefore fails to establish that that a clothing rack with wheels is a dangerous or hazardous condition,” Pappert said. “Likewise, there is no record evidence that the spacing between the clothing racks was so ‘obviously dangerous’ to support an inference that Target was in any way negligent.”

After reviewing the surveillance video, Pappert labeled the area around the clothing rack as “free of debris and well-lit,' and said Carter-Butler stood by the clothing rack and took clothes off of it for two minutes and twenty four seconds before she tripped.

Pappert concluded by dismissing Carter-Butler’s complaint through granting Target’s motion for summary judgment.

“Holding Target liable under these circumstances would charge them with a duty not recognized under Pennsylvania law – to protect customers from tripping over perfectly operational clothing racks that are in plain sight,” Pappert said. “Because the mere occurrence of an accident does not establish negligent conduct, Carter-Butler’s claim is dismissed.”

The plaintiff is represented by Jason E. Fine of J. Fine Law Group, in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Francis J. Grey Jr. and Sean L. Corgan of Ricci Tyrrell Johnson & Grey, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-04030

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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