Brooklyn judge allows slip-and-fall case against Target to proceed
In a ruling published last week, a Brooklyn federal judge allowed a negligence case against the store Target to move forward. Eastern District Judge William F. Kuntz held that the case presented “a genuine issue of material fact” as to the store’s negligence and was one that should be determined by a Brooklyn jury.
In September 2013, the plaintiff, Anne Chong, slipped and fell on a liquid substance shortly after entering a Target in Queens. She filed suit against the corporation, alleging that the New York location breached its duty to keep the store reasonably safe and that this breach was the cause of Chong’s accident and subsequent injuries.
The first element in a successful personal injury case based on negligence is evidence that a duty of safety was breached. A store can breach that duty if, for example, its employees knew or should have known about the dangerous condition in the store that caused the plaintiff’s accident and related damages.
In Chong’s case, Target argued that it had no notice — neither constructive nor actual — of the “slushy ice drink” liquid that Chong slipped on. The store did not dispute the fact that there was spilled liquid or that the spill was visible. Instead, the store put forth the argument that not enough time elapsed between the time of the spill and Chong’s accident that would have allowed a Target employee to see the spill and clean it up.
Circumstantial evidence presented by Chong, however, created doubt about Target’s notice of the dangerous condition, leaving Kuntz to deny, in part, Target’s motion for summary judgment.
The store had a security camera in the area of the accident that captured 30 minutes of footage immediately prior to Chong’s fall. Chong pointed to the fact that the footage shows “at least several people walked gingerly and carefully in the general area of the identified aisle where [she] fell.”
Target, on the other hand, argued that the video showed a young boy who appears to drop something approximately 22 seconds before Chong’s fall.
“Defendant’s argument, however, goes too far,” Kuntz wrote. Though Kuntz did not find Target’s argument wholly persuasive, he also pointed out factors that could lead a jury to find that Target did not have sufficient notice.
Chong stated that she did not know how the liquid got on the floor, or how long it was on the floor prior to her accident. She also stated that she did not know the last time a Target employee inspected the area or if there was any debris in the liquid that would indicate how long it was on the ground. No customer affidavits related to the spill were included in Chong’s statements to the court.
“Accordingly, whether the liquid was on the floor for a significant period of time prior to Plaintiff’s fall is a material issue of fact that still remains to be determined by a jury,” Kuntz ruled.
As Kuntz explained, when reviewing a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he role of the district court is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to perform ‘the threshold inquiry of whether there is the need for a trial…’”
Chong initially filed her suit in Queens County Supreme Court in December 2013. In January 2014, Target removed the case to Brooklyn federal court before moving for summary judgment in May 2015.
In assessing the parties’ arguments, Kuntz noted that federal law governed the standard of his summary judgment ruling, and New York state tort and personal injury law — not federal law — was applied to the substantive issue of negligence.
Chong made no arguments or provided any evidence as to whether Target had actual notice of the spill. Kuntz granted Target’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of actual notice.
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