R.I. SC: 'Shiny floor' allegation in suit against retailer not enough

By Jessica M. Karmasek | May 24, 2012


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - The Rhode Island Supreme Court said last week that a lower court did not err when it ruled in favor of one of the nation's largest retailers of arts and crafts supplies in a lawsuit brought against the company for a customer's fall.

In its May 17 opinion, the Court said the Providence County Superior Court was correct in granting Michaels Stores Inc.'s motion for summary judgment because there was no issue of material fact about whether a dangerous condition existed at the time of plaintiff Maureen Habershaw's fall.

"To the contrary, there was a complete absence of any evidence upon which the defendant's negligence could be established," the Court said.

Habershaw alleges that while placing items she was about to buy on to the cashier's counter, her left foot slipped out from under her and she fell to the floor, landing on her left side.

After the accident, Habershaw says she noticed what she described as a "shiny floor."

She claims as a result of her injuries -- to her left shoulder, hip and foot -- she has incurred significant medical expenses and suffered physical and emotional trauma.

In her lawsuit against Michaels, Habershaw alleges the defendant owed her a duty to maintain its premises in a "good, clean and safe condition," that it failed to do so and that because of its negligence, she fell and suffered several injuries.

In response, Michaels filed a motion for summary judgment, maintaining that Habershaw cannot prove that a dangerous condition existed on its Smithfield store's premises at the time of her fall.

The superior court granted Michaels' motion in March 2010, finding that the plaintiff failed to present evidence that would suggest the shiny floor could lead to a reasonable inference that a dangerous condition existed at the time of her fall.

Subsequently, the court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the breach-of-contract claim in January 2011.

Final judgment was entered in Michaels' favor days later.

Habershaw appealed to the state's high court, arguing that the lower court erred when it determined that there was no genuine issue of material fact about whether a dangerous condition existed at the time of her fall.

The Court, in its eight-page ruling, sided with Michaels.

"In this case, plaintiff has not alleged that it was raining or that any slippery substances were on the floor," Justice Francis X. Flaherty wrote for the Court. "The plaintiff did not testify that her fall was occasioned by any foreign substance on the floor, or that polish or wax had been negligently applied to the floor by defendant.

"The plaintiff has failed to produce any evidence that would give rise to a reasonable inference that a hazardous condition, created by defendant, existed."

In sum, Habershaw's allegation that the floor was shiny was not "competent evidence" and is nothing more than "conjecture or speculation," the Court said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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