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Padgett v. Wal-Mart Stores East, Limited Partnership

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

September 15, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 24]. Plaintiff responded [DE 33], Defendant replied [DE 49], and this motion is now ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be granted.

         Factual Background

         On May 1, 2015, Plaintiff Richard Padgett visited Walmart Store #3894, located at 2350 Grey Lag Way, Lexington, Kentucky to do some shopping. He arrived using a walker to assist in his mobility. He dropped off the walker at the service desk near the store entrance, obtained an electronic shopping cart, and rode in it to the men's restroom near the front of the store. Plaintiff left the electronic shopping cart outside the men's restroom and went inside, walking without the assistance of a walker or cart. Plaintiff used the handicapped-accessible stall while standing up, flushed the toilet, exited the stall, and proceeded towards the exit when he fell “face first” onto the bathroom floor. Plaintiff admits he did not see any liquid or object on the floor, or any defect with the floor prior to his fall. Plaintiff did not feel any liquid on the floor with his hands; however, when he was on the emergency medical services (EMS) stretcher, he observed a damp spot on his pants about the size of a softball. Plaintiff argues this proves there was liquid on the floor which was absorbed onto his pants, and that it was that liquid which caused him to slip and fall. Defendant argues Plaintiff simply fell, likely as a result of his unsteadiness/preexisting health problems or hyperglycemia. Defendant argues there was no liquid on the floor, and supports this with photographs of the dry restroom floor after the incident and a witness statement that Plaintiff “simply lost his balance and fell.” [DE 24, Ex. 3 and 7]. Plaintiff had extensive medical treatment after the fall, which Plaintiff attributes to the fall. Defendant largely attributes the medical treatment to other causes, such as Plaintiff's diabetic foot ulcer, which predated the fall.

         Applicable Law

         Defendant removed this case to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Accordingly, Kentucky substantive slip-and-fall law applies in this case. Federal law governs the procedural aspects of this case, including the summary judgment standard. Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 465 (1965) (“federal courts are to apply state substantive law and federal procedural law.”); See also Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938).

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). If there is a dispute over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under governing law, then entry of summary judgment is precluded. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 242');">477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party has the ultimate burden of persuading the court that there are no disputed material facts and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

         Once a party files a properly supported motion for summary judgment by either affirmatively negating an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or establishing an affirmative defense, “the adverse party ‘must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 250 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Id. at 252. In determining whether the “evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law[, ]” the Court must review the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Booker v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., 879 F.2d 1304, 1310 (6th Cir. 1989); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         Regarding the substantive Kentucky law, this case presents a claim based on premises liability, which requires a plaintiff to prove: “(1) a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) breach of that duty, (3) injury to the plaintiff, and (4) legal causation between the defendant's breach and the plaintiff's injury.” Wright v. House of Imports, Inc., 381 S.W.3d 209, 213 (Ky. 2012).

         With respect to the element of duty, Kentucky courts use a burden-shifting approach. Lanier v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 99 S.W.3d 431 (Ky. 2003).

Under Lanier, the customer retains the burden of proving that: (1) he or she had an encounter with a foreign substance or other dangerous condition on the business premises; (2) the encounter was a substantial factor in causing the accident and the customer's injuries; and (3) by reason of the presence of the substance or condition, the business premises were not in a reasonably safe condition for the use of business invitees.

Martin v. Mekanhart Corp., 113 S.W.3d 95, 98 (Ky. 2003). If Plaintiff can so prove, there is a rebuttable presumption of negligence and the burden shifts to Wal-Mart to prove the absence of negligence by showing that it exercised reasonable care in maintaining its premises. Id. To succeed on its motion for summary judgment, Defendant must demonstrate there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding one of the elements of Plaintiff's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).


         The first two elements of Plaintiff's claim under the Lanier burden-shifting scheme are at issue in this case. Defendant, using Plaintiff's deposition testimony, argues there was no dangerous condition giving rise to liability. [DE 24, p. 8]. Defendant correctly points out that Plaintiff testified he found the restroom clean, did not see any liquid or tripping hazard on the floor, did not feel any liquid on the floor with his hands, and no one told him there was any liquid on the floor. [DE 24, p. 8, and Ex. 1, Deposition of Plaintiff, pp. 72-95]. Defendant notes Plaintiff's extensive medical history prior to the fall, which included incontinence, Parkinson's disease, gait disturbance, and foot drop. [DE 24, p. 6 and Plaintiff's medical record, Ex. 4]. Defendant's theory of the case is that ...

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