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Vazquez v. Wal-Mart Stores

August 5, 2010

PAULA VAZQUEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pollak, J.

OPINION

In this diversity case, plaintiff Paula Vazquez has brought suit against defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., claiming that Wal-Mart's negligence resulted in an injury that she sustained when she slipped on a liquid substance while shopping in one of its stores. Now before the court is Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 20). For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

On August 22, 2007, plaintiff Paula Vazquez was injured when she slipped and fell inside defendant Wal-Mart's store in Glenolden, Pennsylvania. Deposition of Paula Vazquez ("Pl.'s Dep.") at 24.As a result of the fall, plaintiff re-injured her left knee. Id. at 31, 33.*fn1

Plaintiff had visited the store with her daughter and a neighbor in order to make a return. Dep. at 19-22. Upon entering the store, Plaintiff and her daughter walked towards Customer Service, where plaintiff's daughter stayed to return the merchandise. Id. at 22-28. While her daughter waited in line at Customer Service, plaintiff walked through the main alley area in front of the check-out registers. Id. As plaintiff was walking away from Customer Service, she received a call from her daughter asking her to bring her identification so that Customer Service could process the return. Id. at 23. While walking back to Customer Service through a part of the store she had already traversed, plaintiff slipped on a puddle of liquid in front of the self check-out registers. Id. at 22-28. Plaintiff had not previously seen any liquid in that area. Id. at 25-26.

Defendant's surveillance system also captured an unsupervised child interacting with an "impulse display"*fn2 by the self check-out registers shortly before plaintiff's accident. Deposition of Joseph Troy*fn3 ("Troy Dep.") at 37, 38, 51, 61; Ex. E (Snapshot of Wal-Mart's Video Surveillance Footage). The video recording shows the child taking a bottle of bubbles from the impulse display, opening the bottle, and pouring its contents onto the floor. Troy Dep. at 37, 38, 51, 61. A few seconds after the child spilled the liquid, he slid and danced around in the spill. Id. The recording shows that two customers then walked through the area of the spill without falling. Id. at 52. A minute and forty-one seconds after the child spilled the liquid, plaintiff slipped on the liquid and fell. Id. at 51-53; Deposition of Troy Maykopet*fn4 at 32.

Wal-Mart requires all its associates to undergo safety training and pass a safety test. Troy Dep. at 15. There is one associate assigned to the self checkout area, where plaintiff fell (Maykopet Dep. at 24). Self-checkout area associates are charged with the task of making sure that customers scan all their items before leaving, but, like other WalMart associates, also have a duty to clean up spills. Id. They also have the obligation to correct situations that may potentially be dangerous, including those created by unsupervised children. Id.

Additionally, Wal-Mart employs "asset protection associates," who are in charge of floor surveillance--including shoplifting prevention and ensuring safety. Troy Dep. at 23. Even though Wal-Mart maintains a video surveillance system, there is no person assigned to supervise live footage at all times. Maykopet Dep. at 20-21. All surveillance is done on the floor, and cameras are only used for research after events have occurred.

Troy Dep. at 23.

B. Procedural Background

On April 22, 2009, plaintiff sued Wal-Mart for negligence in the Philadelphia County Court ofCommon Pleas (Doc. No. 1, Ex. A) alleging that defendant breached the duty of care it owed her as a business invitee. The case was removed to thiscourt on June 10, 2009 (Doc. No. 1). On April 16, 2010, defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff does not have a viable theory of negligence because the undisputed facts do not establish that Wal-Mart had notice of the danger that caused plaintiff's accident (Doc. No. 20). Plaintiff responded to defendant's motion on May 7, 2010 (Doc. No. 23) by stating that plaintiff does not need to prove notice because defendant created the danger that caused plaintiff's fall. Alternatively, plaintiff argues that Wal-Mart did have notice of the danger because (1) the child that spilled the liquid on which plaintiff slipped was exhibiting behavior that should have attracted defendant's attention, (2) the accident occurred near a "spill center,"*fn5 and (3) defendant's employees were close to the area of the accident. On May 14, 2010 (Doc. No. 24), defendant filed a reply brief arguing that (1) the undisputed facts do not show notice, (2) defendant's employees were not close to the area when the boy spilled the liquid, and (3) the spill station was located fifteen feet from the accident area.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of ...


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