RI Slip and Fall Decision: “Shiny Floor” Not Enough Absent Foreign Substance to Prove Negligence

The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently decided the slip and fall case of Habershaw v. Michaels Stores, Inc.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court Ruled in favor of the store  determining that the store was not at fault for the premises liability accident causing the Plaintiff’s injury. The Court affirmed the summary judgment ruling in favor of the Defendant store.

The Court decided that a mere allegation that a floor was shiny was not enough to establish negligence on the part of the store absent proof that there was a substance such as wax, water, polish etc. on the floor.

The Plaintiff sued the Defendant in in Providence Superior Court  and her  Rhode Island Personal Injury Attorneys alleged that the defendant was negligent and that the stores carelessness caused the Plaintiff’s injuries. The  seriously injured victim alleged that the business failed to maintain the area  in “good, clean and safe condition,” and that the store had a duty to the Plaintiff.  Plaintiff’ primary allegation of negligence was her allegation that “the floor was shiny,”  HABERSHAW v. MICHAELS STORES, INC.

The department stores Insurance Defense Attorneys argued that “plaintiff could not prove that a dangerous condition existed on the premises at the time of her fall.”  HABERSHAW v. MICHAELS STORES, INC.

The RI Top Court set forth the pertinent facts as follows: “The plaintiff alleged that while placing items she was about to purchase onto the cashier’s counter, her left foot slipped out from under her and she fell to the floor, landing on her left side. After the accident, plaintiff surveyed her surroundings and noticed what she described as a “shiny floor.” The plaintiff experienced immediate pain in her left shoulder, hip, and foot, and emergency personnel brought her to Miriam Hospital by rescue. The plaintiff claimed that as a result of her injuries, she incurred significant medical expenses and suffered physical and emotional trauma.”

The Supreme Court of RI set forth the applicable negligence standard of care when the Court Stated: “”to exercise reasonable care for the safety of persons reasonably expected to be on the premises * * * includ[ing] an obligation to protect against the risks of a dangerous condition existing on the premises, provided the landowner knows of, or by the exercise of reasonable care would have discovered, the dangerous condition.” Kurczy v. St. Joseph Veterans Association, Inc., 820 A.2d 929, 935 (R.I.2003) (quoting Tancrelle v. Friendly Ice Cream Corp., 756 A.2d 744, 752 (R.I. 2000)); accord Mead v. Papa Razzi Restaurant, 840 A.2d 1103, 1107 (R.I.2004)…Although a business invitor is not a guarantor of the safety of those who might be expected on the property, a duty remains to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition for prospective business invitees. Terry v. Central Auto Radiators, Inc., 732 A.2d 713, 716 (R.I.1999).

The Court further restated Premises Liability law in RI : “To recover in a slip-and-fall action such as the case before us here, a plaintiff “must present evidence of an unsafe condition on the premises of which the defendant was aware or should have been aware, and that the condition existed for a long enough time so the owner of the premises should have taken steps to correct [it].” Bromaghim v. Furney, 808 A.2d 615, 617 (R.I.2002) (citing Barone v. Christmas Tree Shop, 767 A.2d 66, 68 (R.I. 2001)).

“This Court has not yet addressed this issue, but other courts systematically have rejected negligence claims that are supported by a mere allegation of a shiny floor. See Ventriglio v. Staten Island University Hospital, 6 A.D.3d 525, 774 N.Y.S.2d 571, 572 (2004) (holding that absent evidence that wax or polish had been negligently applied, a smooth, shiny or slippery floor does not support an action for negligence or infer negligence); Bouloukos v. Vassar Brothers Hospital, 262 A.D.2d 342, 691 N.Y.S.2d 570, 571 (1999) (holding slipperiness caused by smoothness or polish did not constitute a dangerous condition absent evidence of a negligent application of wax).”

In finding for the alleged tortfeasor, the Court justified its ruling by stating that the injured victim “ testified that, at the time of her fall, the weather was warm and sunny, and the store was properly lit and clean….she admitted that she did not see any slippery substances in or around the area where she fell or, for that matter, anywhere else in the store.”

Decision of Rhode Island Supreme Court: “ The plaintiff did not testify that her fall was occasioned by any foreign substance on the floor, or that polish or wax had been negligently applied to the floor by defendant. The plaintiff has failed to produce any evidence that would give rise to a reasonable inference that a hazardous condition, created by defendant, existed.

The allegation that the floor was shiny, without more, was not “competent evidence” of defendant’s negligence and plaintiff’s allegation is nothing more than “conjecture or speculation.” Santiago v. First Student, Inc.,839 A.2d 550, 552 (R.I.2004) (quoting Skaling v. Aetna Insurance Co., 742 A.2d 282, 288 (R.I.1999)). We reiterate that “the mere occurrence of an accident, without more, does not warrant an inference that a defendant has been negligent.” Id. (quoting Hernandez v. Fernandez, 697 A.2d 1101, 1103 (R.I.1997)).”

Read the Decision here: http://www.leagle.com/decision-result/?xmldoc/In+RICO+20120517562.xml/docbase/CsLwAr3-2007-Curr

Wickipedia defines premises Liability as ”

Premises liability is the liability for a landowner for certain torts that occur on the real property. This can range from things from “injuries caused by a variety of hazardous conditions, including open excavations, uneven pavement, standing water, crumbling curbs, wet floors, uncleared snow, icy walks, falling objects, inadequate security, insufficient lighting, concealed holes, improperly secured mats, or defects in chairs or benches”.[1] In sum:

Premises liability law is the body of law which makes the person who is in possession of land or premises responsible for certain injuries suffered by persons who are present on the premises.
—ExpertLaw website[2]

Slip and Fall Wickipedia references:

  1. ^ http://webstore.ansi.org/RecordDetail.aspx?sku=ANSI%2FNFSI+B101.1-2009
  2. ^ CTIOA (b), Ceramic Tile Institute of America, “Floor Safety Reports: No. 1, Portable Methods,” ctioa.org, 2001
  3. ^ http://www.c1028.info
  4. ^ Bulletin #4: Ground and Floor Surface. United States Access Board.
  5. ^ http://www.astm.org/Standards/F1679.htm
  6. ^ Premises Liability and Slip and Fall. Retrieved June 27, 2011
  7. ^ a b c d ExpertLaw website. Retrieved January 12, 2009.
  8. a b c Article on premises liability. Retrieved January 12, 2009

 

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