Monique Johnson brought an injury claim in Dauphin County against retailer Gabriel Brothers Inc. The incident occurred at their Union Square Center store where Johnson alleges she slipped on a clothes hanger causing her slip-and-fall. She contended Gabriel demonstrated negligence by failing to remove the hanger.
The lower court found Johnson's claim to be “merely speculation” because she was unable to prove how the hanger got to the floor, the length of time it was there, or if employees were aware of it. In addition, she said the store disposed of video evidence that may have documented the event. She appealed the ruling and a panel in Superior Court affirmed the ruling that her claim citing inadequate evidence with no witnesses to corroborate her account of the incident.
On appeal, the court was tasked with determining if the lower court accurately granted summary judgment for Gabriel Brothers. The question was whether an issue of material fact existed relating to the store's negligence in maintaining the conditions, and if the defendant was actually aware of the potentially hazardous hanger on the floor. In cases of premises liability involving a retail customer (an invitee), it is necessary to show the business was aware of the condition.
Merely the presence of a dangerous condition is alone not evidence that a breach of duties to care occurred. The court sought to determine what (if any) period of time had passed between the hanger's presence on the floor and when the accident occurred. Johnson believed that if the store had followed proper practices of assessing and maintaining the safety of the environment through floor inspections, the accident would have been prevented.
The court was unable to determine if Gabriel created the condition. Johnson contended that protocol should have been in place that included assigned intervals for floor inspections and records (logs) that documented completion. Robin Virbickis, on behalf of Gabriel, explained part of a shift manager's responsibilities included monitoring floor conditions with assistance from the store's loss prevention staff. The plaintiff gained some traction in her claim that the store seemed to lack good practices relating to inspections and documentation of completion.
Johnson's prior testimony stated she slipped on a “clear” hanger that she unexpectedly encountered at the time of the fall. She was unaccompanied at the time and produced no witnesses or facts regarding the length of time that the hanger was in place before the accident. Essentially, there was no means of determining this time frame. Johnson's suggestion of the store's failure to retain video of the time period in question inferred that Gabriel had perhaps done so to benefit their claim.
Counsel for the defense rebutted by stating that the plaintiff had never requested or motioned to compel any such video evidence. In addition, no evidence was presented that the store had a history of slip-and-fall incidents. The appeals court ruled there was insufficient evidence of negligence and affirmed the findings of the lower court.