Federal Court Clarifies Requirements for Slip-and-Fall Cases to Go to Trial

In a decision released earlier this year, a federal court for the District of New Mexico made a ruling allowing a plaintiff’s claims against Wal-Mart, which arose out of her slipping and falling on a spilled liquid inside a Wal-Mart store, to be heard by a jury. The defendant had filed a motion asking the court to summarily dismiss the lawsuit because the plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the defendant could be legally liable for the plaintiff’s injuries under New Mexico law, but the court sided with the plaintiff and allowed the claim to proceed.

caution-wet-floor-sign-1-1006453-m.jpgThe Laws for Premises Liability in New Mexico
Businesses generally have a duty to protect customers and other members of the public from hazards and injury caused by the business’s negligence while the customer is on their property. In New Mexico, however, it is well established that negligence on the part of the business owner may not be presumed merely from the fact that an injury has been sustained by a customer while rightfully on the premises.

For a plaintiff to prove negligence in a New Mexico premises liability case, the plaintiff must present some affirmative evidence of negligence. Specifically, a plaintiff must do more than demonstrate the existence of a slippery spot on the floor near the location of the injury. In this case, the defendant used the plaintiff’s deposition testimony to argue that because the plaintiff herself did not see the liquid even as she was standing in it, that the spill could not have existed long enough for the court to find the defendant was negligent leading up to the accident.

When Does a Business Owner Become Responsible for a Spill?

In deciding this case, the court applied a legal standard for determining liability that has evolved in New Mexico over the past several decades. For a business owner to be held responsible for a hazardous condition, the injured visitor must prove that the owner “failed to exercise ordinary care by rendering safe an unreasonably dangerous condition on the premises known to, or discoverable upon reasonable investigation by, the owner or occupier.”

To prove that an owner is responsible for a slippery floor, a plaintiff must demonstrate that “the slippery condition had existed for such a length of time that the employees in the store should, in the exercise of due care, have discovered it in time to have remedied it.” The defendant’s motion in this case claimed that the plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence for a jury to find that the spill existed long enough so that it would have been discovered by an owner exercising reasonable care.

The Court’s Decision
The court sided with the plaintiff and relied on a photograph of shopping cart tracks going through the liquid to support the plaintiff’s inference that the hazard was created by a spilled and later abandoned bottle of cleaning solution, which could have been there for “at least ten minutes prior to her fall.” Since the question of whether a defective condition is present for long enough for a defendant to incur liability is one for the jury, the court overruled the defendant’s motion. The plaintiff will have the opportunity to argue her case to a jury, who will ultimately determine if the defendant should be responsible for the injuries.

Have You Been Injured in a Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or someone you love has been injured in a slip-and-fall or by another hazard while on the premises of a business, the business owner’s negligence may have been a factor in your injury. The New Mexico personal injury attorneys at The Fine Law Firm have experience trying all types of personal injury cases, and we can give you the advice and advocacy that you need to recover from your injuries and hold the responsible parties accountable. Don’t go it alone. Schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. Call (585)889-3463, or contact us through our website today.

More Blog Posts:

Bicyclist Hit and Seriously Injured By Garbage Truck in Albuquerque Last Month, New Mexico Truck Accident Lawyer Blog, July 7, 2014.

Fallen Stop Sign Leads Woman to Drive into Intersection and Collide with Semi-Truck, Killing Her Instantly, New Mexico Truck Accident Lawyer Blog, July 28, 2014.