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Slip and Fall Cases Are Difficult Without Sufficient Proof

When a woman slipped and fell at a Target store, a federal judge determined that she did not present sufficient facts to allow her case to be decided by a jury.  Wherefore, the judge dismissed the case following a motion by Target for Summary Judgment.  According to an opinion by Judge Ponzer, of the United States District Court in Springfield, Ms. Clairmont was walking down an aisle in a Target store.  She had food items in both hands.  Ms. Clairmont asserts that suddenly and without warning she was “propelled with great force by a change in the surface” causing her to fall and suffer an injury to her head and shoulder.
 

Ms. Clairmont could not pinpoint exactly where she fell.  Notwithstanding the fact that tiles were replaced in the area where she fell, there was no evidence that the new tiles caused the fall, or the floor to be uneven.  In fact, Target employees testified that they found her on the floor nowhere near the replaced tiles.  The judge found that if the case went to the jury it would be merely “bare speculation” as to what happened; there was no evidence as to what caused her to fall.  The Court’s decision stated that the law is clear that a plaintiff’s “general conjecture regarding a possible defect is not by itself enough to justify” allowing a case to go to the jury.  There was “no contrary evidence” that the judge could find.

What is Summary Judgment?

 

After sufficient evidence is collected in the discovery phase of a court case, a party may file a “motion for summary judgment.”  The rules of Civil Procedure in Massachusetts and in Federal Court, allow a judge to review the case, upon this motion, and determine if, considering the facts most favorable to the non-moving party, that party has sufficient evidence to even bring their case to a jury.  A judge will dismiss a case if there is “no genuine issue of material fact.” Many cases that get appealed, and that we learn about in the media, are cases that judges have determined shall be dismissed under this summary judgment rule.
 

Clients Need to Work Closely With Their Lawyers to Develop Their Case

The important takeaway for injured plaintiffs and our clients is that, clients need to help their lawyer in establishing liability.  In this case, while Ms. Clairmont’s husband went back to take photographs, Ms. Clairmont did not accompany him; she could not testify as to whether the photographs were of the location where she fell.  She testified that she did not see or feel any unevenness in the floor; her husband testified that he did not feel any unevenness upon his trip to the store to take photographs.
 

In all of our cases we try to engage clients, and their families, to help gather evidence.  Medical records and bills and photographs of injuries are critical.  However, evidence of how an accident happened is harder to secure and often time sensitive.  While photographs of vehicles and accident scenes are important motor vehicle accident cases, they are essential in slip and fall cases.  In the Clairmont case, the result may have been different if Ms. Clairmont had been able to go back to the store and identify where she fell and why; so she could testify as to what caused her to fall.  The Target employees said the floor was smooth; there was “no contrary evidence” so the judge entered judgment against Ms. Clairmont, notwithstanding her serious injuries.

 

When your lawyer says he or she needs pictures, names of witnesses, documents.  It’s real.  Cases that can’t be proven will be thrown out…and you don’t even get your day with a jury.  Attorney Neil Burns has been working with clients since 1985 on slip and fall cases – he has tried them to juries, settled them with insurance companies and at mediation.  Call 617-227-7423 for a free consultation.