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COURT REJECTS PLAINTIFF’S SPECULATIVE LIABILITY THEORIES IN SLIP AND FALL CASE

Posted by Linda Yu.

In the recent case Pirkle v. QuikTrip Corp., 2014 Ga. App. Lexis 34, the Court of Appeals upheld summary judgment in favor of the Defendant QuikTrip on the grounds that Plaintiff’s evidence of the Defendant’s actual or constructive knowledge of liquid on the floor was speculative at best.

In this case, Plaintiff, Carlos Pirkle, claimed that he slipped and fell on water located next to the checkout counter of the store. Plaintiff’s evidence as to QuikTrip’s actual knowledge of the liquid consisted of witness testimony stating (1) that a store employee placed a bucket and mop to the right side of the checkout counter shortly before Pirkle’s fall, and (2) that another customer had dropped a package of bottled water near the area where Pirkle fell shortly before the incident. However, there were no reports of any spills or liquid on the floor prior to Pirkle’s fall and Plaintiff even testified that he did not recall seeing any water in the area of his fall when he entered the store. The video from QuikTrip’s security camera showed Pirkle walk into the store and several other customers walk in the same area where Pirkle’s fall occurred.

The Court held that Plaintiff’s evidence was speculative, at best, as to what caused Pirkle’s fall and, therefore, did not establish actual knowledge. To rebut Plaintiff’s claims as to constructive notice, QuikTrip produced inspection logs which showed that an employee performed an inspection of the floors every 30 minutes, one having been performed in the specific area of Pirkle’s fall just 8 minutes prior to the incident. The Court held that where the property owner can prove that an inspection occurred “within a brief period” before an invitee’s fall, the inspection procedure will be deemed adequate and reasonable.

The defense of this case was helped in large part by the maintenance of routine inspection records and video surveillance. We should continue to advise our property owner clients of the importance of maintaining such records and how doing so can defeat a plaintiff’s claim that the owner had knowledge of a dangerous condition.