This was originally posted on the SGR Blog.
Was Kohl’s Negligent and Liable for Customer’s Injury?
We have all had the experience of navigating the aisles, stands and displays that must be traversed in a department store. As a recent case illustrates, the Court was required to determine if the operator was liable when a customer tripped and fell over a mannequin stand and display.
Jodi Leckie sued Kohl’s Department Stores, Inc. to recover for personal injuries she allegedly sustained as a result of a trip-and-fall accident that occurred on March 18, 2017 at the Kohl’s store located at 5000 Nesconset Highway in East Setauket, New York. The accident allegedly occurred when Leckie tripped and fell on a mannequin stand display. Leckie alleged that Kohl’s was negligent in permitting the display to protrude into an aisle creating a hazardous condition.
Kohl’s moved for summary judgment on the ground that the alleged condition was open and obvious and not inherently dangerous. In support of its motion, Kohl’s submitted the transcripts of the deposition testimony of Leckie and Kohl’s employee Caroline DuRussel and the affidavit of Caroline DuRussel. In opposition, Leckie argued in her affidavit that triable issues of fact remained as to whether Kohl’s created a dangerous condition by improperly placing the stand.
At her deposition, Leckie testified that the accident occurred at approximately 2:00 p.m., in the casual wear section. Her right foot tripped over a display platform causing her to fall onto the tile floor. The accident occurred when she was in the process of walking from the carpeted area to the tiled area. The platform was partially located on the carpeted area and protruded two or three inches onto the tiled flooring and was located within close proximity of a shelving unit for clothes. Leckie admitted that nothing obstructed her view of the mannequin stand as she was walking from the carpeted area towards the tiled area at the time of the accident.
DuRussel testified that she was working as a customer service area supervisor in March of 2017. And she acted as the manager on duty on the date of the accident. After the accident occurred, she inspected the mannequin base. DuRussel explained that she “couldn’t comprehend where [Leckie] would have tripped” based upon her inspection. According to her testimony, in the event that a mannequin base protruded onto the tiled area from the carpeted area, Kohl’s policy was to reposition it so that it was “even with the carpet.”
DuRussel averred that, on the date of the accident, she was working as a customer service area supervisor at the premises. Her responsibilities included supervising customer service employees and acting as the manager on duty on an as needed basis. According to DuRussel’s affidavit, she visited the accident site “shortly” after the accident occurred and she observed no defect to the mannequin base. DuRussell contended that the mannequin base was located on the carpeted area in the Misses section and that nothing was covering or obscuring it.
A landowner, or a party in possession or control of real property, has a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition. There is no duty to protect or to warn against an open or obvious condition on the property that is not inherently dangerous as a matter of law. A condition is open and obvious where it is readily observable by those employing the reasonable use of their senses, based on the circumstances at the time of the accident. The question of whether a condition was open and obvious cannot be divorced from the surrounding circumstances and generally is a question for the fact finder to resolve. Similarly, whether a condition was not inherently dangerous, or constitutes a reasonably safe environment, depends on the specific facts of the case. Proof that a dangerous condition is open and obvious does not preclude a finding of negligence, but is relevant to the issue of the plaintiff’s comparative negligence. Accordingly, a defendant must establish, prima facie, that the alleged condition was open and obvious and not inherently dangerous to obtain summary judgment.
The Court found that Kohl’s established its prima facie entitlement to summary judgment by demonstrating, prima facie, that the mannequin stand or platform was open and obvious, and that it was not inherently dangerous. In support of its motion, Kohl’s submitted Leckie’s deposition testimony, which indicated that nothing obstructed her view of the mannequin stand or platform at the time of the accident. Thus, the burden shifted to Leckie to raise a triable issue of fact.
But Leckie failed to raise a triable issue of fact. The claimed violation of Kohl’s internal rules or guidelines was insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact. A violation of a company’s internal rules, standing alone, is insufficient to establish negligence, and where such rules require a standard beyond the standard of reasonable care, a breach cannot be considered evidence of negligence. Moreover, Leckie’s statement in her affidavit that her view of the mannequin stand was partially obstructed at the time of the accident presented a feigned issue of fact designed to avoid the consequences of her earlier deposition testimony that nothing obstructed her view of it at the time of the accident. And her allegation that the mannequin stand protruded approximately two to three inches onto the tiled area from the carpeted area did not raise a triable issue of fact as to whether it was inherently dangerous.
Kohl’s motion for summary judgment dismissing Leckie’s complaint was granted.