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Supermarket Soup-Spill Claim Dismissed

A shopper who fell in the prepared foods section of a Whole Foods store, but who saw no substance on the floor, cannot recover from defendant store, despite another shopper’s observation of a “smear of soup” about the size of a large coffee cup lid in the same section; the Alexandria U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge grants summary judgment to defendant store.

In his deposition, the witness stated he did not know how the soup came to be on the floor or how long it had been there. He also did not know whether Whole Foods was aware that there was soup on the floor, but he assumed it had been there for a very short time period.

Whole Foods keeps detailed maintenance logs. Employees are tasked with inspecting the prepared food section on a regular basis. After an employee inspects an area, he scans a badge, which records the time the inspection was completed. Defendant’s maintenance records state an employee inspected the prepared food section of the store at 11:48 a.m., before plaintiff’s fall and at 12:15 p.m., after her fall. Both inspections found the floor to be clear.

Although it was foreseeable that someone could spill soup on the floor, plaintiff has the burden of showing that Whole Foods had either actual or constructive notice of the soup spill and failed to clean it.

The soup did not spill on the floor because of the way that Whole Foods displayed it. It spilled on the floor because someone other than Whole Foods spilled it. Therefore, Whole Foods did not affirmatively create the unsafe condition. Plaintiff suggests that, because the self-service soup area had not been inspected for 20 minutes prior to her fall, enough time had lapsed to give Whole Foods constructive notice of the spill. Because plaintiff cannot show how long the soup was on the floor before she slipped on it, she cannot show that Whole Foods had constructive notice that the soup had spilled, creating an unsafe condition.

Summary judgment for defendant store.

Hassanzadeh v. Whole Foods Market Group Inc. (Davis) No., Jan. 14, 2016; USDC at Alexandria, Va.; Julie H. Heiden for plaintiff; Michael R. Spitzer II for defendant. VLW 016-3-029, 9 pp.

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