A human factors expert advises on a case involving a slip and fall at a service station. The plaintiff fueled his vehicle at defendant service station and went into the store to make a purchase and attempt to catch a rare Pokemon for his augmented reality game profile. The floor directly inside the door was wet, yet there were no signs, cones or other warnings of a wet floor. The plaintiff fell immediately after entering the store. He landed on his shoulder. He underwent left shoulder arthroscopic debridement and went to physical therapy nearly two dozen times. According to the state workers compensation board, he is permanently partially disabled.
He filed a premises liability action against the store, alleging its employees should have known that the floor was wet.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What caused the fall?
- 2. How could it have been prevented?
Expert Witness Response
A number of factors contributed to the incident. In short, based on the information that I have reviewed to date, it is my opinion that the primary cause was an interaction of the dangerous design and condition/maintenance of the subject facility.
The floor where plaintiff slipped and fell was in a hazardous condition; this condition was not abated in a timely manner due to the lack of an effective safety and risk management program; and the plaintiff’s actions and/or inactions were not a significant contributing factor to his slip and fall.
The plaintiff behaved in a reasonable and prudent manner; he had no reason to expect a hidden hazardous condition such as the localized wet area on the tile flooring. He did not commit any errors of omission or errors of commission; his actions and/or inactions were not a contributing factor to his slip and fall, and were clearly foreseeable by the defendant.
It is clear from defendant’s employee training documents that not only is the defendant aware of the hazard presented by wet floors, but it is also aware of how to control this hazard and protect customers. Furthermore, it is apparent that the defendant violated its own policies and procedures, and that these violations resulted in the hazardous condition that induced his fall and resulted in his injuries.
The most effective risk management plan would have focused on the root causes of the hazard, namely the unreasonably slippery condition created when any type of contaminant (i.e. water from wet conditions outside) is tracked onto the tile flooring. It was unreasonable for the defendant to expect to be able to maintain the tile flooring in a clean and dry state when it was raining outside and the two mats that were in place at the time of this fall were saturated with moisture. Defendant’s failure to have taken any action such as placing cones or signs warning of the hazard of the wet slippery floor was a further violation of the Fundamental Principle of Safety and resulted in customers such as the plaintiff at risk for a slip-and-fall incident.
It was the duty and responsibility of the defendant to provide a safe floor and to protect its customers from an unreasonable risk of harm. Further evidence that the defendant failed to have an effective safety program is the response to plaintiff’s incident. No incident report was prepared until 20 months after the incident. Again in violation of their own policies and procedures, there were no photographs taken of the area at the time of the incident, nor was the video surveillance preserved. An effective safety and risk management program must include a prompt response and thorough investigation of any incidents or even near-misses in order to identify the underlying root cause(s) and appropriate corrective actions to prevent future recurrences.
The expert is an engineer and certified safety professional with more than 35 years of experience as a human factors expert.