$15 Million Slip and Fall Verdict Against Wal-Mart Illustrates Slip and Fall Evidentiary Issues


February 22, 2011

A $15 million dollar verdict in a slip and fall lawsuit against Wal-Mart is believed to be the largest slip and fall verdict in the country. The case provides an example of the complex factual issues that can make these cases difficult to litigate as well as the types of evidence that must be uncovered to prevail. The plaintiff in the case was Holly Averyt, a self-employed trucker who delivered frozen goods to a Wal-Mart store in Greeley, Colorado.

The accident victim in the case faced challenges in terms of providing evidence on three issues that could have adversely affected the outcome: (1) determining what Averyt slipped on; (2) establishing how long the substance was present; and (3) proving the company knew or should have known of the hazard. At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law we have successfully handled these issues in cases for our clients throughout Georgia for over 25 years.

The initial theory of the case was that Averyt slipped on white kitchen grease that was somehow spilled in the parking lot (presumably when being discarded). Initially, the available evidence regarding the presence of a foreign substance included a report by another truck driver who almost slipped on a substance the day before Averyt's slip and fall accident, as well as two employees who indicated that the grease trap in the kitchen had been missing since 2005. However, a request was made to the city to determine if any grease spill had been reported. The request turned up evidence that a massive grease trap spill had been reported and that a Manager of Wal-Mart indicated that the spill had been present for a week. The date of the spill cleanup turned out to be the same day that the victim slipped and fell.

The theory behind Georgia premises liability law which justifies imposing a duty on a business to take reasonable care to warn of foreign substances like grease, or to take ordinary care to make the premises safe, is that generally the business is in a better position to know of the danger and to take steps to make the condition safe. A key issue in cases like this is whether the business has actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard. Like Wal-Mart, most businesses will never admit knowing of a dangerous condition like slippery grease on the ground. The slip and fall victim must show that the business had constructive knowledge (should have known about the hazard if it had exercised ordinary care). The store must have a reasonable cleanup and maintenance schedule so that personnel can check areas and keep them clear of debris and foreign substances. The store does not need to be perfect, so these cases turn on the particular circumstances of the individual case. However, the probability that a business will be found liable increases the longer the foreign substance or the condition, which is responsible for the foreign substance (like a leaky water cooler), is present and the more time that has passed without checking the area.

The critical evidence obtained from the city regarding the report was sufficient to establish both that there was a spill of white grease, as well as the fact that it had been present long enough that Wal-Mart personnel should have known about the unsafe hazard. The dangerous substance being present for at least a week according to a public report, and having been called to the attention of a store manager by a city official, was compelling evidence that Wal-Mart did not exercise ordinary care. The key is that an experienced slip and fall attorney will look to things like surveillance video, past accident reports, emergency medical response calls, public records regarding safety inspections, interview witnesses , and other sources to develop evidence that the business knew or with the exercise of ordinary care should have known of the foreign substance.

If you are involved in a slip and fall accident on the premises of a business anywhere in Georgia, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your injuries. These cases can often result in catastrophic life-changing injuries. Averyt has had two spinal surgeries including one that involved removal of a vertebra. She suffered permanent disability and needs a cane to walk. If you suffer serious injuries in a slip and fall accident in Georgia, call Montlick and Associates to learn about your rights to compensation.  We work hard for our clients and are dedicated to providing exceptional service as part of our goal of being the best slip and fall lawyers in Georgia.

Our experienced Georgia slip and fall accident lawyers are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Posted by David Montlick

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied up as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.