If you’re walking down the aisle of a grocery store and a customer only a few feet in front of you accidentally drops a glass jar on the floor, you would have a hard time blaming the store if you got nicked by a piece of glass. But what if that shattered jar had been there for an hour? Thirty minutes? Ten minutes? This is the question that will soon face a jury in a slip-and-fall lawsuit against Target.
Back in 2009, a woman walked into a Philadelphia Target store and slipped on a puddle of baby vomit, injuring her wrist, knee and some fingers. She subsequently filed suit, but last week, Target had asked a U.S. District Court judge in Philadelphia to dismiss the case, saying that the puke puddle at the heart of the lawsuit had only been there for seven minutes.
But the judge in the case denied Target’s request, saying that since time-stamped video footage exists showing the entire seven-minute span from when the baby vomited near the door to when the plaintiff slipped and fell, it was a matter for the jury to decide.
The judge found precedent showing that the court should only rule when lack of evidence would require “conjecture, guess or suspicion” from the jury.
From the ruling [PDF]:
While the Court recognizes that seven minutes is certainly a short time period, this is not the type of case that would “require the jury to resort to ‘conjecture, guess or suspicion,’” such that the Court should undertake the weighing of the facts on its own, particularly where the facts include information beyond simply the elapsed time.
That additional information the judge references is the testimony of Target employees, some of whom can be seen in the video standing near the puddle.
“I walk by this area all day during my shift,” one of the Target staffers said in a statement. “I was not paying any attention to the area before the incident.”
So now (assuming Target doesn’t just settle this out of court), a jury will decide whether or not seven minutes is enough time for employees at the retail chain to notice what the plaintiff described as a “clear liquid puddle the size of a salad plate with a pinkish substance the size of a fifty cent piece in the middle.”
Feel free to play judge, jury and appeals court in the comments.