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)