A woman in a grocery store slipped and fell, hitting her head a losing consciousness for several minutes. When she regained consciousness she realized she had slipped in a clear liquid – presumably water. The puddle was about three feet in diameter. There were no foot tracks or cart tracks through the liquid. There were no nearby freezers, refrigerators or other sources of water and no evidence that the roof was leaking.
Eventually the woman sued. The case was dismissed. She appealed.
Under Washington law the “mere presence of water on the floor and a resulting fall are insufficient to support an inference that the proprietor permitted a dangerous condition to exist.” Instead, a person injured by a slip and fall must show that the store either knew of the dangerous condition – or if it had exercised ordinary care, should have known of the dangerous condition.
Here, the Washington Court of Appeals noted that on the facts of this case:
- There was no evidence suggesting how long the water had been on the floor;
- No one reported seeing the puddle before the accident;
- Shortly after the accident, the woman’s husband did not observe any track marks through the liquid, an indication that it may have been there only a short time;
- She did not see the puddle as she had passed by the same area previously, which was only about five minutes prior to her falling.
The Court of Appeals concluded that – even though she was injured on store property – the woman could not establish that the store either knew, or should have known about the spill early enough to have removed it.
Under Washington state’s “self-service” exception, a business may be liable for a slip and fall injury if the business’s mode of operation makes a particular type of hazard foreseeable, even in the absence of evidence that the business knew or should have known about the dangerous condition.
Here, the store did sell beverages in the deli, and allowed customers to bring in beverages from outside.
However, there was no evidence that no evidence tending to show that customers congregated in the area near the fall, either generally when the store was busy or at the time of the accident; nor any evidence about the store’s method of operation, including the nature of items sold at the deli counter, the frequency of resulting debris or substances on the floor, the frequency with which customers consumed beverages brought from outside, and the history and frequency of similar accidents prior to this slip and fall.
The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision in dismissing the case, because the woman injured in the store could produce no evidence that would make the store responsible for her injury.
This case is another example illustrating that a store is not automatically responsible for an injury just because the injured person fell in the store. On the contrary, slip and fall cases are often among the toughest for the injured person to win.
Still, every case is different. If you are injured in a slip and fall incident you should have a personal injury attorney review your case.
By personal injury attorney Travis Eller
 Brandt v. Mkt. Basket Foods, 72 Wn.2d 446, 451, 433 P.2d 863 (1967); Wiltse v. Albertson’s Inc., 116 Wn.2d 452, 459, 805 P.2d 793 (1991).