It’s a fairly typical personal injury scenario: a customer, while on defendant’s premises, slips and falls on (for example) a slippery substance, sustains injury, and sues to recover damages. What may seem like a straightforward situation is anything but.
This is illustrated by the recent case of Dequinzio v. Gristedes Food, Inc., decided by New York State Supreme Court Judge Wooten on May 30, 2014. There, the plaintiff alleged that he sustained injuries after he slipped and fell on soapy liquid detergent from an open bottle in an aisle of defendant’s store. The court granted defendants summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint.
Here’s the legal standard:
A defendant who moves for summary judgment in a slip-and-fall action has the initial burden of making a prima facie demonstration that it neither created the hazardous condition, nor had actual or constructive notice of its existence. In order to constitute constructive notice, a defect must be visible and apparent and it must exist for a sufficient length or time prior to the accident to allow the defendant to discover and remedy it. Once a defendant establishes prima facie entitlement to such relief as a matter of law, the burden shifts to plaintiff to raise a triable issue of fact as to the creation of the defect or notice thereof. It is well-settled, however, that rank speculation is not a substitute for the evidentiary proof in admissible form that is required to establish the existence of a triable question of material fact.
After summarizing the law and the facts, the court explains why plaintiff loses:
Here it is uncontested that the defendants had actual notice of the liquid detergent spill, that there was a sign placed near the spill in the aisle, and that plaintiff’s accident occurred in between the time the sign was placed in the aisle and before [store manager] Valesquez returned with a mop to clean. In order to constitute constructive notice, a defect must be visible and apparent and it must exist for a sufficient length o[f] time prior to the accident to allow the defendant to discover and remedy it. Once a defendant has actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, the defendant has a reasonable time to correct or warn of its existence. [Defendants contend] that their actions were reasonable, whether it took two minutes or five minutes for Valesquez to return with a mop, after placing the wet floor signs in the aisle near the spill. The Court agrees, and finds that the defendants have met their prima facie burden of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law that defendants did not have a reasonable opportunity to remedy the hazard, i.e. the liquid detergent spill. (Emphasis supplied by court.)
Since plaintiff failed to raise a question of fact in opposition, summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s complaint was warranted.