201904.15
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‘Facts’ (Or Lack Thereof) Still Matter: Another Personal Injury Lawsuit Thwarted By Lack of Proof

Last week, we blogged about how facts matter in litigation. Specifically, we addressed how a dog bite case failed because the plaintiffs were not prepared to prove facts legally sufficient to establish their right to relief.

Today, we offer another example of a personal injury lawsuit that was thwarted by a lack of facts.

Deadly Supermarket Fall

In Wasnetsky v. Quinn’s Market, a man shopping in the produce aisle of Quinn’s Market suddenly slipped backward and fell, striking his head on the linoleum floor. He died from his injuries.

The man’s widow brought a lawsuit against Quinn’s, alleging that it was negligent in failing to protect her husband from a dangerous condition that she “believed to be water or juice” on the floor.

One problem: There was no evidence of water, juice, or any other liquid on the floor.

Another shopper who spoke to the man moments before he fell testified that there was no liquid on the floor and that she specifically looked for hazards after the accident and didn’t see any. She also inspected the man’s shoes at the scene and found that there was no trace of a slippery or foreign substance. She noted that the man was wearing a “boat or loafer” type of footwear which had a “smooth finish” on the bottoms of the soles. She testified that “there was no grip on the bottom of his shoe” and that it “looked like a slippery type of shoe.”

The store manager and the produce manager also inspected the floor around where the man fell and did not observe any substance on the floor other than the man’s blood. There were 12 security cameras in the store, but none of them were directed at the produce area where the man fell.

The man’s widow brought a lawsuit against Quinn’s alleging that it was negligent in maintaining its floor. As proof, she relied on the reports of two bio-mechanical experts whom she retained. The experts opined that the man slipped due to a substance on the floor and that Quinn’s was negligent in failing to protect its customers from the slick surface. However, neither expert could identify what kind of substance could have caused the accident. In fact, one of the experts concluded his report by emphasizing that “it is impossible to describe the specific state of the floor, that is, what material was on the floor, at that time and how that state contributed [to the accident].”

The trial court dismissed the widow’s case, finding that there was no direct or circumstantial evidence of a dangerous condition on Quinn’s floor at the time of the accident. The widow appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

No Evidence

The Superior Court ruled against the widow, finding that she failed to carry her burden of adducing any evidence that a dangerous condition on Quinn’s premises caused the accident. The court made short order of the two expert reports that she relied upon:

The two experts in this case conceded in their respective reports that they could not identify the cause of the accident. The experts speculated that the decedent slipped on a slick substance without referring to any specific evidence to that effect. Notably, neither expert even acknowledged the critical testimony of any eyewitness that the decedent’s shoes had a “smooth finish.” The experts also disregarded the testimony of three eyewitnesses that there was no slippery substance on Quinn’s floor which could have caused the decedent’s accident. These reports and the opinions contained in them were not competent evidence that Quinn’s negligently maintained its premises or that an unreasonably dangerous condition on the premises caused the decedent to fall.

Conclusion

We’ll say it again: Facts matter when bringing a personal injury (or any other type) of lawsuit. In order to recover in personal injury litigation, a plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant acted negligently. In this case, there was no such proof.

If you have been injured in an accident, it is important to consult with a personal injury attorney immediately to ensure that your legal rights are protected.