BOISE, Idaho (Legal Newsline) – A judgment by the Fourth Judicial District Court of Idaho absolving Walmart of any liability related to an accident in one of its stores was vacated by the Idaho Supreme Court, according to a ruling filed July 30.
“Because we find material issues of fact exist, we reverse the District Court's decision,” Justice G. Richard Bevan wrote in the opinion.
According to the opinion, this case is an appeal concerning a grant of summary judgment made by the District Court. Diane Brooks sued Walmart Stores Inc. after allegedly slipping in a puddle of water and sustaining an injured knee that required surgery in 2013. The puddle was located next to a Rug Doctor self-service kiosk.
Walmart denied any liability for the accident, saying that the responsibility, if any, was Rug Doctor’s. Walmart moved for summary judgment, arguing that Brooks failed offer evidence that established that Walmart had actual or constructive notice of the condition that caused her injury. The district court agreed.
Brooks submitted a motion for reconsideration but was denied by the court.
“'When the district court grants summary judgment and then denies a motion for reconsideration, this court must determine whether the evidence presented a genuine issue of material fact to defeat summary judgment,'" the ruling stated, citing Shea v. Kevic Corp. "'This means the court reviews the district court’s denial of a motion for reconsideration de novo.'”
Bevan stated that an invitee is defined as one who enters the premises of another with the owner’s express or implied consent for their mutual benefit, or for a purpose connected with the owner’s business. Walmart had conceded that Brooks entered its store as an invitee, and as such, the judge said that Walmart, as a landowner, “was charged with a superior knowledge of the premises and the possible dangers located there, as compared with their invitees.”
He added that there are two duties Walmart owes to an invitee: One is to keep the premises reasonably safe, and another is to warn of any concealed dangers which Walmart knows of or should have known of upon reasonable investigation.
“The district court erred in granting summary judgment where triable questions of fact exist," Bevan wrote. "The district court found, both at summary judgment and when denying Brooks’ motion for reconsideration, that Brooks had failed to establish that Walmart should have known that the Rug Doctor kiosk created a dangerous condition. We disagree.”
He explained that this case presents the unique circumstance in which the business owner placed a potentially dangerous product that could leak or spill fluid in the busiest part of its store, and then left its customers to their own devices in managing that product.
“Given the facts, as alleged by Brooks, a reasonable jury could reach the conclusion that Walmart should have known that its operating method for managing Rug Doctor machines created a dangerous condition,” the ruling states.
Another question raised by the judge in his opinion was whether Walmart created a dangerous condition when it placed potentially risky machines on its premises and then failed to act reasonably in managing those machines.
“A reasonable jury may find that Walmart’s actions were not negligent, but it may find that they were. Therefore, the district court’s grant of summary judgment is vacated,” Bevan wrote.
Chief Justice Roger Burdick and Justices Joel Horton and Robyn Brody concurred with Bevan.
However, Justice Warren Jones dissented.
“I believe the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Walmart, holding that Ms. Brooks failed to provide evidence that Walmart knew or should have known about the spill in which she slipped. I would affirm,” he wrote.