Law School Classic: Who to Blame for Fall in Aisle

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

SAN DIEGO (CN) – A first-year law student’s professor of torts inevitably covers the classic case of negligence where a woman slips in the supermarket aisle. The question, on which ride both the woman’s monetary award and the lawyer’s pay, is who’s at fault.

Was it, say, the staff at Southern California-based grocery store chain Stater Bros., who put an ice machine in the aisle where a woman was seen on store video going down? Or was it the two customers who were also seen by the machine spilling ice and then playing a game of mini-soccer with the ice cubes?

As it turned out, U.S. District Judge Michael Anello granted summary judgment to Stater Bros. in a ruling this week in San Diego. He found plaintiff Jennifer Rodgers failed to prove the store was negligent because they did not immediately clean up the ice that customers had kicked all over the floor.

Store videotape captured the events. Four minutes before Rodgers fell, two customers were shopping where the store keeps its large bags of ice. One of the customers spilled an ice bag on the floor, which broke open. The two men proceeded to kick the ice around the floor, buy whatever they came for and exit the store.

Meanwhile, Rodgers came by soon after and fell on the slippery floor.

Rodgers claimed the store was liable because it failed to clean up the spill in a timely manner despite a closed-circuit camera that could have alerted them to the situation.

However, Stater Bros. said its policy to clean floors every hour conforms to regulations and doing so earlier would not have helped prevent the accident.

Ultimately, the judge agreed.

“In any event, plaintiff points to no evidence nor even an inference that suggests that defendant could have reasonably anticipated or had knowledge that slip-and-falls from spilled ice or water would regularly arise from defendant’s policies of customers handling ice bags or hourly floor sweeps,” Anello wrote in the 21-page ruling.

Rodgers had also argued that failing to implement a policy that only employees could handle ice bags made the store negligent. Anello rejected that, saying Rodgers hadn’t shown such a policy is widespread or that it would have prevented the slip and fall.

Finally, the judge said the four minutes from the time the ice was kicked around to when Rodgers slipped was insufficient to establish responsibility.


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