Pennsylvania Record

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Walmart victorious in slip-and-fall lawsuit after arguing the plaintiff has injury-prone past

Federal Court

By Charmaine Little | Oct 3, 2019


ERIE - A Walmart shopper failed to prove the grocery store chain was responsible for his injuries after a slip-and-fall in a Meadville store.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted Wal-Mart summary judgment against Xavier Rios earlier this year, and the timeframe for the plaintiff to appeal has expired. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter ruled on the case.

The court pointed out that Rios failed to explain how long the water that he slipped in was in the bathroom, let alone how it got into the bathroom in the first place. While Rios noted an orange caution cone in the bathroom as proof that Walmart knew of the potential danger, a maintenance worker on duty that day said they would often leave the orange cone in the bathroom by habit. 

But he also added, “[The floor] could possibly be wet. If people are coming in… if people, they wash their hands all the time, like wringing their hands off, shake their hands off, and the water would get on the floor. So just in case if somebody saw water there, like there just in case the floor would be wet."

Walmart pointed at Rios' extensive history of injuries, saying it cast a dubious shadow over his claims in the case. Rios was bitten by bed bugs on the job in November 2012, suffered an elbow injury in March 2014 that required 11 subsequent surgeries, had a rear-end motor vehicle collision after that, then slipped and fell in a former Target/Halloween-themed store restroom in October 2015. 

All this in the midst of a 2013 hospital stay for a stroke and later diagnosis of high blood pressure and diabetic neuropathy in both of his feet, resulting in his use of a walking cane - a cane that Wal-Mart says he was not using on the day of the supposed accident, in a bathroom he claimed to have been in “a thousand times.”

“Rios had firsthand knowledge of what can happen when hurriedly walking into a public restroom without looking where he was going, given his previous slip and fall in the Target men’s bathroom," Walmart's attorneys wrote in a motion for summary judgment.

"This time, when entering the bathroom, he was even warned of the possible presence of water by the orange caution cone and still took no precautions. One would think that the knowledge of a previous slip and fall, coupled with a warning sign, would cause Rios to exercise some type of precaution for his own well-being; it is inexcusable that he would ignore the orange caution cone’s presence."

As for the judge's point of view, it noted that the presence of the cone in the bathroom isn’t enough to establish that Walmart was aware of any danger. It added that based on the worker’s testimony and Rios’ time in the bathroom, the bathroom was most likely cleaned about an hour before he entered, which makes it unlikely that the employee knew of a puddle of water by the time Rios got inside.

Given these factors, the court granted Walmart’s motion for summary judgment.

Rios and his significant other were shopping in the store when he started having stomach issues and needed to use the bathroom. When he went into the men’s room, be hurried to the second, handicap stall on the far end. 

While he spotted an orange triangle caution cone, he didn’t look down on the floor before making his way to the stall. He was in the stall for nearly 15 minutes before leaving. Upon his exit, the orange cone was still there, yet he didn’t “pay attention to the floor to see if there was any water on it,” according to the decision. 

He made it about three steps past the cone before he fell. Once he was on the floor, that’s when he saw a two-to-three-foot puddle behind his head. Rios said he’s convinced the water came from men who came into the bathroom while he was in the stall and said he didn’t see any water when he first got into the restroom. 

He later told two employees about the puddle and that he had fallen. He was instructed to complete a Customer Incident Report. While he said his fall was a result of Walmart’s negligence, the court disagreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the store.

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