Louisiana law does not recognize “strict liability” for slip and falls and a merchant is not automatically liable for someone’s injuries simply because he or she fell on the merchant’s premises. Before plaintiffs can recover damages for a slip and fall that occurs in a merchant’s store, La. R.S. 9:2800.6 requires plaintiffs to prove three separate elements in addition to causation and damages: 1) that the condition that caused the accident presented an unreasonable risk of harm that was reasonably foreseeable; 2) that the merchant either created the condition or had actual or constructive notice of the condition (the “notice element”); and 3) that the merchant failed to exercise reasonable care. A recent decision from the Louisiana Fifth Circuit highlights that evidence used to establish one element is not always good enough to establish another. Instead, all three of these elements are required for liability to attach.
In Batiste v. United Fire and Casualty Company, 17-482 (La. App. 5 Cir. 3/14/18), the plaintiff claimed she slipped and fell on water in a grocery store aisle. Batiste admitted that she did not know where the water came from, how long the water had been on the ground, or whether any employees knew the water was present. As such, the plaintiff conceded that she could not show that the grocery store created the condition or had actual knowledge of the puddle before she fell.
However, Batiste claimed the store had constructive notice of the condition. To support this argument, the plaintiff pointed to evidence that a grocery store employee failed to confirm she completed a walk-around inspection of the store before the accident, in violation of company policy. Batiste argued that the puddle of water would have been discovered had the inspection been performed and that the failure to perform the inspection was proof that the grocery store possessed “constructive notice.”
The court disagreed. To establish constructive notice, plaintiffs “must come forward with ‘positive evidence’ showing the damage-causing condition existed for some period of time” sufficient to place the merchant on notice of the defect. Without this “temporal element,” constructive notice cannot be inferred. An employee’s failure to perform a pre-incident inspection could not establish this temporal element. Therefore, the court found that plaintiff’s claims were properly dismissed. In closing, the court observed:
While the evidence regarding the adequacy and timing of the floor inspection may be relevant for proving a failure to exercise reasonable care to discovery a hazardous condition, a delay in the performance of such procedures offers no proof of how long any such condition may have been on the floor, a separate and equally essential requirement of the Batistes’ burden of proof under Section 9:2800.6.
The plaintiff’s claims were dismissed because she could not establish each element of her claim. Evidence of one element was not evidence of another.
Reynolds LeBlanc is a partner at Keogh Cox. His practice areas include commercial litigation, personal injury claims, appeals, and other matters. Reynolds is a former teacher, who in his free time plays music and perpetually talks himself into training for his next marathon.