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Pennsylvania Appellate Court Upholds Finding that Plaintiff Failed to Show Supermarket Deviated from Standard of Care After She Slipped and Fell in Checkout Line, Suffering Injuries

Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reviewed a judgment in a premises liability lawsuit brought by a woman injured in Giant Food Stores.  The court analyzed Pennsylvania law concerning the duty owed by a property owner to business invitees, and it affirmed the lower court’s judgment that the plaintiff had not presented evidence that Giant deviated from the applicable standard of care.  In other words, there was not enough evidence for a jury to find that the store created a dangerous condition that caused her to fall, or that it failed to perform reasonable inspections that would have revealed the dangerous condition.

Veronica Honis testified that she was in the checkout aisle of the Giant on Locust Street in Hazelton on June 23, 2010.   While Mrs. Honis’ husband bagged groceries, she went to an end cap display to retrieve ice cream, and as she returned to the aisle, she stepped on a small bottle of Red Bull and fell, causing injuries to her body.  Before falling, neither Mrs. Honis nor her husband observed the bottle in the aisle.

The trial court granted a nonsuit and then denied Mrs. Honis’ motion for removal of the nonsuit. Mrs. Honis appealed and presented the issue of whether the trial judge erred in granting the motion for nonsuit, based on the existence of sufficient evidence from which the jury could conclude Giant created the dangerous condition causing her injuries, or failed to conduct a reasonable inspection of the premises to discover the dangerous condition.

The Court stated that a nonsuit is proper when a jury viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff could not conclude the elements of a cause of action had been established.  In a nonsuit, a jury may not reach a verdict based on mere conjecture or speculation.

The Commonwealth Court set forth Pennsylvania law regarding premises liability, stating that a landowner is liable for harm caused to invitees if it knows or should know of the condition that poses an unreasonable risk of harm, expects they will not discover it, and fails to protect them against danger.

The appellate court found the trial court’s analysis was sound and adopted the entirety of the trial opinion, incorporating it by reference.  The trial court looked to the trial testimony to determine whether Mrs. Honis presented evidence
demonstrating Giant deviated from the duty of reasonable care.

The trial court stated that Pennsylvania’s adoption of the Restatement of Torts § 343 provides the rule of law on Dangerous Conditions Known to or Discoverable by Possessor.  This law states that a possessor of land may be liable for harm caused  to invitees by a condition on the land only if it knows of the condition or should know of the condition, expects the invitee will not discover the condition, and fails to exercise reasonable care to protect invitees from the danger.

Here, the trial court stated Ms. Honis did not present evidence tending to prove Giant deviated from the standard of care under the circumstances.  In other words, there was no evidence from which the jury could find the Red Bull on the floor was an uncorrected, recurring condition stemming from a shopper’s mishandling the bottle and the store’s failure to adequately clean the floor.  Ms. Honis failed to show how the can was displayed or whether the way it was displayed led to the can falling to the floor.

The trial opinion transcript included testimony from a service associate from Giant describing the process of “clean sweeping” the checkout aisles. While Mrs. Honis argued that the display in front of the aisle was a harmful transitory condition, the trial court found that she did not present testimony proving the Red Bull was part of this display. There was also no evidence that the presence of the Red Bull could be traced to Giant or was part of a display.

The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the lower court, incorporating the entirety of its opinion.

At Needle Law, our Pennsylvania premises liability lawyers provide guidance and representation to injured individuals seeking to recover compensation for their losses after an injury on someone else’s property. If you believe your injury was due to the negligence of the property owner, we can investigate your case, identify potentially liable parties, and fight for your legal rights. Contact our office for a free consultation by calling570-344-1266 or using the online form.

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