Another victory goes to Target Corp. in premises liability case initiated by Pa. plaintiff

By Jon Campisi | Apr 4, 2013

For the second time in a week, retail giant Target Corp. has come out on the winning end

of litigation initiated by plaintiffs who claim they became injured due to hazardous conditions at stores operated by the defendant.

On April 2, U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted summary judgment to Target in a case brought by Santosh Lal, who alleged she injured her knee after slipping and falling on a puddle of spilled soda while shopping at the Target location in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

Lal had claimed that she did not know what had caused her fall at the time, and that she was unaware there was any liquid spilled on the tile floor at the store, the record shows.

However, the incident report that had been signed by Lal stated that the cause of the incident was a soda spill, and the plaintiff’s own daughter subsequently testified that her mother had told her she felt something “slippery a little bit and she fall down,” according to Diamond’s judicial memorandum.

At deposition, a floor supervisor for Target had testified that he usually inspected the “sub main aisle” where the incident took place, which is a fairly heavily trafficked area of the store, and Lal did not allege that any Target employee was aware of the liquid spill before her fall.

Target argued that the court could determine as a matter of law that Lal did not slip on the puddle of soda because she had no direct knowledge that she slipped on the substance, the memorandum states, but Diamond disagreed with this contention, writing that store workers who came to Lal’s aid did, in fact, notice the spill near the plaintiff’s fall.

The judge, however, wrote that there is no evidence from which a jury could reasonably find that Target had notice of the spill.

“Indeed, Plaintiff concedes that Target had no actual notice of the spill,” Diamond wrote. “Rather, she contends that a jury could reasonably find that Target had constructive notice of the spill, given its size, shape, and location.”

To prove constructive notice, the judge wrote, Lal would have to show that Target had an opportunity to remedy the dangerous condition, and without sufficient evidence that the spill had been on the floor for a significant duration of time, a jury could not reasonably infer that the defendant had constructive notice.

“Plaintiff has presented no evidence as to when the spill occurred,” the judge wrote. “Rather, she suggests only that the soda spilled from an unattended shopping cart farther down the aisle. Even if Plaintiff is correct, this indicates only how, not when, the spill occurred.”

Diamond also brushed aside Lal’s contention that because Target employees regularly patrol the store’s aisles, the defendant should have known about the spill that caused her fall, with the judge writing that while such evidence might well relate to whether Target acted reasonably, it does not show that Target knew or should have known of the spill.

Diamond wrote that summary judgment is proper when there is no evidence as to the time or duration of a spill that causes a plaintiff’s injury, and in this case Lal has produced no evidence that Target had either actual or constructive notice of the spill that caused her fall.

In addition to being found not negligent in this case, Target also came out on top in a state case recently when a Pennsylvania Superior Court panel reversed a plaintiff’s judgment in a similar premises liability action.

In that case, the appellate judges sided with Target in a lawsuit it was embroiled in with Makalla Davis, who claimed she sustained knee injuries after tripping over a beanbag chair that had been left on the store’s floor.

The plaintiff was actually awarded $135,000 by a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury, but the appeals panel subsequently reversed the verdict, determining that Davis failed to demonstrate that Target had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.

The state appellate judges ruled that Target was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, even though a jury had earlier determined otherwise.

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