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Goffredo v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 22, 2017

DEBORAH GOFFREDO, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, L.P., Defendant.

          RULING ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Deborah Goffredo (“Goffredo”) is suing Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P. (“Wal-Mart”) for negligence in connection with a slip-and-fall incident on November 10, 2013, at Wal-Mart's store located at 1100 New Haven Road, Naugatuck, Connecticut (the “Store”). Wal-Mart has moved for summary judgment. I DENY Wal-Mart's motion because Goffredo's testimony about the presence of tracks made by a shopping cart in several aisles of the Wal-Mart, including aisles perpendicular to the one she fell in, together with a Wal-Mart employee's statement that he witnessed “a trail of liquid all around the department, ” when construed in the light most favorable to her, would allow a reasonable jury to infer that Wal-Mart had constructive notice of the condition that caused her fall.

         II. Facts

         On November 10, 2013, Goffredo was shopping at the Store. After Goffredo had completing her shopping, Goffredo “was getting ready to leave” and “[o]n the way to the checkout” when she slipped on “a blue liquid” that “looked like Dawn or something of that nature.” (ECF No. 26-1 at 13-14.) She had been pushing her cart “walking, and [slipped]….within a split second.” (Id. at 16.) Her “foot locked and slid, and [she] was holding onto the cart to keep [herself] from falling.” (Id.) But she fell to her knees. After her fall, she noticed “tracks from some type of liquid.” (Id.at 45.) According to Goffredo, these “tracks [were] going up and down several aisles.” (Id. at 43.) The tracks in the other aisles ran perpendicular to the aisle Goffredo slipped on. To Goffredo, “it appeared that carts went through the puddle up and down a few of the aisles.” (Id.) Goffredo did not see the substance (or any substance) prior to her fall. She estimated that the pool of blue liquid measured about six inches in diameter. She noticed the substance only after her fall and did not see any dirt or tracks in the pool in which she slipped.

         At the time of her fall, Goffredo was walking down a main aisle toward the front of the Store. This aisle, known as an “action alley”, is “the main walkway through the store” (ECF No. 34-1 at 10), and runs from the back of the Store to the front of the Store where the cash registers are located. Along the aisle where Goffredo fell, there were other aisles that ran perpendicular to it. Her fall occurred near a food display, but there were no displays of any soaps or detergents in the area where the incident occurred. The aisle where Goffredo fell was approximately six aisles away from the household chemicals aisle.

         Goffredo's fall was reported to Willem Hoving, a co-manager of the Store. Hoving went to the scene of the incident, and he recorded his observations in a witness statement dated November 10, 2013. Upon arriving at the scene, Hoving's statement indicated that he “witnessed a trail of liquid around the dep[artment].” (ECF No. 34-1 at 43.) According to Hoving, Goffredo “appeared upset”, and she conveyed to him that “she was stiff and uncomfortable.” (Id.) Hoving directed another Store employee to take Goffredo's statement while he and another Store employee “guarded the spill” until “Joe from maintenance cleaned [it] up.” (Id.) Before the spill had been cleared, Hoving photographed the incident scene, and Store personnel later confirmed that the blue liquid substance resembled laundry detergent.

         Karen O'Connell (“O'Connell”) was only several feet away from Goffredo when she fell. She did not see Goffredo fall, but heard her yell, looked toward the noise, and saw Goffredo on her knees on the floor holding the handle of her cart. O'Connell went to assist Goffredo. As O'Connell approached the incident scene, she observed a line of little, light blue dots that resembled drips on the floor behind and in front of where Goffredo fell. After she inquired into Goffredo's welfare, she went to inform a Store manager about the incident. O'Connell conveyed to the Store manager Goffredo's medical needs, but he appeared to be dismissive of what she was saying. O'Connell then left Goffredo with the Store manager. But before leaving, O'Connell offered that she would be willing to make a statement on Goffredo's behalf in connection with the incident and provided Gofrredo with her contact information.

         At some time later, Goffredo asked O'Connell to write a letter documenting her observations of the incident. In O'Connell's letter dated February 7, 2014, O'Connell indicated she observed “a blue substance” on “the floor where [Goffredo] had slipped”, and as she “looked around on the floor, the blue substance could be seen as a path of spots.” (Id. at 55.) The letter further indicates she informed the Store manager about the “trail of liquid substance spots” and that he should have Store employees clean up the trail. (Id.) O'Connell did not recall any dirt, discoloration or other tracks in the substance other than where Goffredo had slipped in it. O'Connell concluded that the substance had leaked from a container being transported through the aisle by another customer based on the substance's appearance and location.

         On the date of the incident, Wal-Mart had “Slip, Trip and Fall Guidelines” in effect for its employees “to prevent slips, trips and falls within a facility.” (ECF No. 34-1 at 50.) As part of these guidelines, “[a]ll associates ha[d] a responsibility to conduct periodic safety sweeps.” (Id. at 51.) A “safety sweep” consisted of “periodically walking a department or area, checking the conditions for safety and cleanliness, and providing a quick clean.” (Id. at 46.) The guidelines instructed Store employees to:

[p]erform a visual sweep of the area looking for potential hazards, such as falling merchandise, empty pallets, spills, unattended pallet jacks, debris, and empty boxes.
[d]ust mop or broom sweep high traffic areas including but not limited to: action alley, frontend, personal care, household chemicals, backroom, fresh areas. . . sidewalks, and the vestibule.
[w]atch for and correct potential hazards…

(Id. at 51.) According to Hoving, Store employees had a responsibility to conduct “safety sweeps” every hour. (Id. at 9.) Under Wal-Mart's corporate policy at that time, the completion of “safety sweeps” by maintenance employees was recorded in a handwritten log that was checked daily. (Id. at 27.) The logs detailing the “safety sweeps” from the date of the incident have been shredded in accordance with Wal-Mart's document ...


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