Along with her husband and daughter, Luz Maria Gonzalez went to Sam’s Club to shop about 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday. While she was walking in the parking lot toward the store, she tripped and fell when her feet became tangled in an approximately 2-foot-long strip of white plastic rope that was lying on the pavement.
Gonzalez said she did not see the thin plastic rope (which is used to tie or seal large merchandise boxes) that allegedly caused her injuries. She said similar ropes were always on the ground in the Sam’s Club parking lot, usually caused by customers who unpack boxes before putting purchased merchandise in their cars.
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Neither Gonzalez nor her husband immediately reported the accident to Sam’s Club personnel. Later, she sued Wal-Mart Stores, owner of Sam’s Club, for her injuries.
Evidence showed Sam’s Club contracted with a maintenance service to clean the parking lot every morning around 6 a.m. It usually took 60 to 90 minutes to empty the trash cans and pick up boxes and the thin plastic rope left by some customers.
A former Sam’s Club employee, Maria Ferreras, reported the thin plastic rope used to tie boxes “was always in the parking lot.”
The attorney for Sam’s Club argued Gonzalez failed to prove there was a dangerous condition in the parking lot that caused her injury. She failed to prove Sam’s Club knew or should have known about the thin plastic rope that allegedly caused the injury, he added.
But Gonzalez’ attorney replied Sam’s Club had constructive notice of the dangerous condition based on the evidence customers often unpacked their boxes, leaving the boxes and the thin plastic rope in the parking lot.
If you were the judge would you rule Sam’s Club is liable to Gonzalez for her injury due to its failure to remove the plastic rope from its parking lot?
The judge said no!
The evidence presented by Gonzalez shows the Sam’s Club parking lot periodically became littered with boxes and other debris, which was cleaned every morning around 6 a.m., the judge began.
“In this case, there is no evidence that the defendants were – or should have been – on notice to protect against injuries caused by specific reoccurrences of a dangerous condition, namely, accumulations of thin plastic rope in the Sam’s Club parking lot,” he noted.
“Based on the record as a whole, and drawing all inferences in favor of the plaintiff, a reasonable jury could not conclude that the plaintiff has submitted sufficient evidence showing that the defendants had actual or constructive notice of the particular dangerous condition that allegedly caused the plaintiff’s injury,” the judge ruled. Therefore, Sam’s Club and its owner Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are not liable to Luz Maria Gonzalez for her trip-and-fall injury, the judge concluded.
Based on the 2004 U.S. District Court decision in Gonzalez v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 299 Fed.Supp.2d 188.
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