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Federal jury should hear store slip-and-fall

A three-judge panel sent a supermarket slip-and-fall case back for jury review in Richmond federal court.

U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer said there was no jury question in Deborah Adams’ negligence suit for $1 million dollars for injuries she suffered when a wine distributor allegedly failed to clean up a spill from a wine bottle that broke as he restocked the beverage section.

Gary Judd, the sales representative for Republic National Distributing Company who accidentally dropped the bottle of wine, said he took prompt action to deal with the spill. He blocked off one side of the spill area, retrieved a broom and dustpan, picked up the larger pieces of glass by hand and swept the area with a broom. He mopped the area and put up a yellow warning cone.

But six minutes later, when Adams entered the wine aisle, she slipped and fell in the spill area. She injured her head and knee, and damaged the retina in her left eye. She underwent multiple surgeries, incurred about $30,000 in medical bills, and was left legally blind in her left eye.

Asking what else Judd could have done, Spencer said Adams failed to put on any evidence to show the clean-up was inadequate.

A 4th Circuit panel disagreed in Adams v. Kroger LP I, decided June 12. The panel’s per curiam opinion said Adams had put on evidence that Judd used a slippery hand-sanitizer when he cleaned the floor, did not dry-mop the floor and used only one, unreasonably placed cone, to mark the spot.

The district court erred in weighing the evidence and taking the negligence claim from the jury, the appellate court said. Kroger still could be on the hook, as “Judd’s efforts in cleaning up the spill would not necessarily preclude Kroger from noticing the spill area as a dangerous condition, and a jury could reasonably reach that conclusion,” the panel wrote.

It was up to the jury to decide whether the Kroger surveillance video’s depiction of the spill area for a 19-minute period showed the store had enough time to have noticed the spill and taken action, the court said before vacating the win for Kroger.
–Deborah Elkins

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