Safety and OSHA News

‘Cleanup in aisle 7’: Better make it quick

Imagine this: A baby vomits just inside the entrance to a Target store. Seven minutes later it’s not cleaned up and a customer slips and falls, sustaining injuries. A slip-and-fall lawsuit follows. Will the store be able to get the lawsuit thrown out? Surveillance video is key.

Store video from the Target in Philadelphia shows a baby vomited on the floor, creating a puddle near the entrance at 2:48 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2009. At 2:55 p.m., seven minutes later, customer Nadyne Timberlake slipped and fell in the puddle, injuring her wrist, finger and knee.

The video also shows various Target employees walking and/or standing near the site of the puddle between the time the baby spit up and Timberlake’s fall.

The injured customer sued Target, and the store tried to get the case thrown out, arguing that not enough time elapsed for Target to have constructive knowledge of the hazard.

Under Pennsylvania law, the injured person must show that the business owner knew or should have known of an unreasonable risk or harm to customers.

A federal judge hearing Target’s dismissal request noted that there are a variety of factors to determine whether a business had constructive notice of a hazard.

One of them is time, in particular, “the time elapsing between the origin of the defect of hazardous condition and the accident is one of the most important factors to be taken into consideration.”

The court said there is a “lack of a bright-line rule governing how long is long enough to impute constructive notice.” In one case 50 years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said it was unreasonable to expect a store to know within five minutes about a spill.

But another ruling just two years ago denied a motion for dismissal involving a case in which a puddle was only on the floor of a retail store for a minute and 41 seconds. In that case, a child poured the contents of a bottle of bubble solution on the store’s floor and then started dancing in it. The bottle had been part of what’s commonly referred to as an “impulse display.”

Less than two minutes later, a customer slipped and fell in the liquid. A court refused to throw out that particular slip-and-fall lawsuit.

While acknowledging that “seven minutes is certainly a short time period,” the court said “this case involves precisely the type of factual analysis that is best suited for a jury.”

Therefore, the court refused to throw out the lawsuit. Barring a settlement, the case will now go to a jury trial.

No doubt the store’s own surveillance video showing that employees were walking or standing by the spill during those critical seven minutes will be key.

(Timberlake v. Target Corp., U.S. District Court, E.D. of PA, No. 11-3051, 4/25/12)

 

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Comments

  1. alecfinn says:

    Store video from the Target in Philadelphia shows a baby vomited on the floor, creating a puddle near the entrance at 2:48 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2009. At 2:55 p.m., seven minutes later, customer Nadyne Timberlake slipped and fell in the puddle, injuring her wrist, finger and knee.

    The video also shows various Target employees walking and/or standing near the site of the puddle between the time the baby spit up and Timberlake’s fall.

    Case closed

    A few comments

    Why did the employee not put up a wet floor sign? At least until the clean up person got there? Or perhaps tell the woman to watch out? Guide all around the slip and fall danger?

    Suppose she had been pregnant and lost the baby?

    A little training goes a long way and there are reasons for mandated training in some areas wet flooring is one of them it should be reinforced as frequently as possible. Some employees do not see something like this as an all person responsibility that is why frequent Safety Training is so important for staff visitors and for organizations that care for folk.

    Even though I have taught safety management and I understand how this could happen if it happened to me I would have sued………

  2. The store/employees should have responded when apparently they did not make any move to clean the hazard. On another note: What about the parent just walking away from his/her childs mess that he/she created. As a parent should they not take some personal responsibility to clean up the mess themselves. The lack of any accountability or concern for others from some people makes me sick – I think I’m gonna puke!

  3. alecfinn says:

    Jeff I agree…….And if it had been my child at the least I would have reported it to staff and waited for corrective actions but then this is a publication for Safety Professionals” most people do not see this type of thing as a personal or public responsibility.

    They (people in general) need to check out the commercial that talks about many people doing the right thing and take the lesson of that video to heart. Anyone could have slipped and hurt themselves badly in this situation, suppose an elderly person who has fragile bones or a diabetic or just someone who gets badly hurt with a concussion of broken bones…………

    Unfortunately most folk do not see that there is a general responsibility for all persons to make the world a little better for all persons.

  4. I’m guessing the baby’s parents were more concerned about their child vomiting and taking care of the child than to stay around to make sure someone cleaned it up. The parent could have motioned to the nearby Target employees that the child vomited.

    The issue here is the Target employees with the attitude of “that’s not my job” about cleaning up a mess that is the real issue here.

  5. SHERALROH says:

    By virtue of the fact that several Target employees walked right by the mess and did nothing, makes Target liable for the accident. A slip and fall in any store is embarassing and can result in some serious injuries, Target should pay up and remember to clearn up faster…

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