In this case, the plaintiff alleges that he was shopping at the defendant’s grocery store when he slipped on wet tiles in front of a refrigeration unit. He allegedly slipped and fell as a result of the wet tiles, which resulted in substantial injuries. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants carelessly, recklessly, and unlawfully owned, managed, maintained, controlled, and inspected the premises of the store and that they failed to keep the floor clean, dry, and safe for customers. As a result, the plaintiff asserted claims for negligence and premises liability.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Was the floor a hazard?
- 2. Was the store’s monitoring of cleaning procedures adequate?
- 3. Did the defendant abide by the standard of care?
Expert Witness Response
The subject floor presented a substantial slip hazard for customers exercising reasonable care. Testing I conducted during my site inspection revealed that the smooth vinyl composite tile floor surface had an average slip resistance of 0.87 under dry conditions and 0.22 when water was present. Studies of human ambulation have shown that a floor with a slip resistance of 0.22 presents a 45% chance of a slip event occurring, which is a substantially high risk. Therefore, it is my opinion the floor was in an unsafe condition at the time of the incident.
A water spill on the subject floor surface would be difficult to perceive. First, a puddle of water or other transparent liquids could easily go unnoticed by a customer, because it would not provide an obvious visual contrast from the surrounding floor surface. Second, the extensive fluorescent lighting within the store reflects off the floor surface and mimics the appearance of a liquid. Third, within retail establishments, the attention of a customer is intentionally directed away from the floor and toward merchandise displays and advertisements. Therefore, it is my opinion that the combination of the above factors would make it difficult for a customer to perceive water or other transparent liquids on the subject vinyl floor surface.
Defendant failed to ensure the entire sales floor was in a reasonably safe condition for customers. Defendant knew of the high potential for spills to occur in many areas of the store and took measures to make these areas safer for customers. Given that the majority of the sales floor was a smooth vinyl tile, which is excessively slippery when wet (as discussed above), it is my opinion that defendant fell below the standard of care by failing to provide a reasonably safe floor for customers. Further, given that a spill can occur anywhere at any time within the market, the smooth vinyl composite tile used for the majority of the sales floor was improper and inherently unsafe. Therefore, it is my opinion that no frequency of inspections or sweeps (even if conducted properly) could ensure that the floor was in a reasonably safe condition for customers.
The inspections being conducted by defendant’s employees around the time of the incident were not being conducted properly. The sweep log for the day of the incident indicates that sweeps were completed within a time period of less than 13 to 15 minutes. Based on my inspection of the subject store and given its size, there is a reasonable inference that these documented sweeps on the day of the incident were not being done properly, as it would take at least 20 to 25 minutes to conduct a proper sweep of the entire store with a dry mop. Therefore, it is my opinion that the sweep log report produced by defendant in this case is unreliable.
Defendant was made aware of the incident by plaintiff on the day after the incident, yet failed to review and/or preserve footage. Therefore, it is my opinion that the store employees acted below the standard of care in failing to preserve possibly valuable evidence regarding this incident.
The expert is a mechanical engineer, attorney and an active member of several safety counsels. He is a senior forensic engineer at a consulting company and has analyzed more than 3,000 cases.