Appellate Court Remands Case in Plaintiff’s Favor in Recent Premises Liability Action

Recently, a state appellate court issued a personal injury opinion discussing an issue that is applicable in many New Mexico premises liability lawsuits. In this case, the court was presented with an appeal that granted Wal-Mart summary judgment after a woman was injured when she slipped and fell on a puddle of water inside the store.

The Facts of the Case

About five years ago, a woman went to a Wal-Mart store to pick up some gardening supplies. Along the way to the gardening section, the woman passed by a kiosk that rented carpet cleaning machines. The carpet cleaning company and Wal-Mart had entered into an agreement allowing the company to place their machines in a self-service kiosk in the Wal-Mart store. There was no stipulation that any Wal-Mart employee or carpet cleaning company employee was required to manage or supervise the area.

On the day of the accident, the woman was being escorted through the store to the garden center when she fell near the kiosk. The woman injured her left knee and required surgery. The fall was captured on security footage, which showed that a customer had rented a carpet cleaning machine a few minutes before the accident, but there was no indication that the machine was leaking or that any other customer or employee noticed a puddle of water on the floor.

The Procedural Posture

About a year after the incident, the woman filed a negligence lawsuit against Wal-Mart. She claimed that Wal-Mart did not warn her of the dangerous condition. Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment, maintaining that there was no evidence that they were negligent because the plaintiff failed to establish that the store was aware of the puddle of water. The trial court granted summary judgment to Wal-Mart. The court found that the woman did not offer any evidence of knowledge on the part of Wal-Mart. The district court agreed with this finding, and the lawsuit was appealed to the state’s high court.

Summary Judgment in Premises Liability Lawsuits

In cases in which a negligence lawsuit is based on a premises liability theory, the plaintiff must first establish their relationship to the landowner. Generally, they will be classified as either an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. In cases in which the defendant is a business, and the plaintiff is on the defendant’s property for commercial purposes, the plaintiff is usually considered a licensee because they entered the property with their express or implied consent for a mutually beneficial reason.

Landowners who allow licensees on their property must keep the property “reasonably safe, and warn of any concealed dangers” that were known or should have been known to the landowner.

The Court’s Ultimate Holding

The court found that the trial court focused on Wal-Mart’s lack of notice, but it did not examine the fact that Wal-Mart should have inspected the carpet cleaning machine area because of its potential to leak and create a risk of harm. The court ultimately found that Wal-Mart’s duty to inspect the area is a genuine issue of material fact that should be determined by a jury. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Have You Been Injured in a Slip-and-Fall in New Mexico?

If you have been injured in a New Mexico slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. Although these cases often seem to be straightforward, they often deal with very specific nuances in the law. These nuances and legal complexities are best handled by experienced New Mexico personal injury attorneys who are apprised of all pertinent laws. Contact one of the attorneys at the Fine Law Firm at 800-640-6590 to schedule your free initial consultation and to learn about your rights and which remedies may be available to you.

More Blog Posts:

New Mexico Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Rental Car Company After Renter Is Involved in an Accident, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 24, 2017.

Third-Party Liability for Serving Alcohol to Intoxicated Individuals in New Mexico, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, May 10, 2018.