Judge Gene Pratter released a decision on Monday in a local baby vomit slip and fall case, and the news was not positive for Target.
According to the released court document, Nadyne Timberlake was entering the Target store at 4000 Monument Road when she slipped and fell on a pool of baby puke. Surveillance tape shows Target employees standing near the puke for approximately seven minutes prior to the fall.
Timberlake injured her right wrist, pinky finger, and left knee and eventually filed suit against the store. The store maintained that, as a matter of law, seven minutes is not enough time to impute constructive knowledge upon the store and its employees, and therefore, the case should be dismissed.
Judge Pratter disagreed. In a summary judgment motion such as this one, every contested fact is taken in a light most favorable to the person not bringing forth the motion. Here, that means all assumptions and disputed facts are taken in a way most favorable to Timberlake. In other words, Target is arguing that even if everything Ms. Timberlake says is true, her case still fails and should be dismissed.
For the law regarding slip and falls, owners of property open to the public have a duty to keep the premises safe. If they know of a hazardous condition and fail to remedy it, they can be held liable for any injuries that occur. For temporary hazards, like baby puke, it is assumed that the owner knows about the hazard after a certain amount of time. This is to prevent places, like a store or a restaurant, from leaving slippery substances on their floor and then claiming that they never knew about it.
Target argued here that seven minutes wasn't long enough to assume that they knew about the puke; and they might have had a winning argument, had there not been a surveillance tape of employees standing at or near the puke for seven minutes. After all, there was at least one past case cited by the court in which they stated that five minutes was not enough time to hold a store accountable for a spill in one of the aisles.
However, there was a conflicting Walmart case involving a child playing in bubble solution where the liquid was only on the floor for one minute and forty-eight seconds. That suit went to the jury because the store placed the solution in an area accessible to children and because the child had been playing in the mess in the open area for at least a minute.
In short, the law is mixed and unsettled regarding short time frames affecting slip and falls. Also, despite that short time frame, there is enough of a question as to whether Target should have known, due to the circumstances, that the floor was wet.
Where there is a matter of disputed facts, the case should go to the jury to decide.
A victory at the summary judgment stage does not guarantee a victory for Nadyne Timberlake in her baby vomit slip and fall suit. All that this decision settled was whether the lawsuit could proceed. The jury could still find that Target was not at fault, or the parties could settle the matter before the jury even hears the case.