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Slip and Fall Case Against Wal-Mart Allowed to Proceed in Federal Court

A federal judge has allowed a woman who allegedly slipped on cherries and fell in a Wal-Mart store to sue the company for her injuries. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the Southern District of Texas denied Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff Deana Briley's gross negligence and premises liability claims against the retail giant. Gonzales Ramos also allowed certain aspects of Briley's expert's testimony on friction as admissible but denied his opinions on store policies. Briley fell in the Kingsville Wal-Mart Location after stepping on cherries that had spilled on the floor. According to Gonzales Ramos' opinion, Wal-Mart was promoting a produce sale by displaying cherries in an “action alley,” which is the retailer's term for the highest-traffic areas of its stores. The judge noted that there were no floor mats in the area. Gonzales Ramos said Briley could proceed on narrow premises liability grounds under the 1992 Texas Supreme Court decision in Corbin v. Safeway Stores, in which the plaintiff fell after slipping on grapes in a grocery store. "While plaintiff’s evidence cannot establish a standard slippery-floor claim, Texas law recognizes a narrow category of premises liability claims in which a condition on the premises is so inherently dangerous that the store-owner is on notice of the hazard without requiring the plaintiff to show when the risk materialized," Gonzales Ramos said citing Corbin. "As in Corbin, plaintiff has cited evidence indicating that Wal-Mart policy requires special safety measures around displays of loose fruits like cherries because such displays pose inherent slip-and-fall risks," Gonzales Ramos said. "Wal-Mart nonetheless located this display in a high-traffic action alley and allegedly made matters worse by consciously deviating from its policy requiring floor mats near cherry displays." Gonzales Ramos also gave a green light to Briley's gross negligence claims. "Construing all evidence in Plaintiff’s favor, questions of fact exist as to whether the cherry display objectively created an extreme degree of risk and if so, whether Wal-Mart nonetheless proceeded with conscious indifference to that risk," the judge said. "A jury could reasonably find that Wal-Mart, despite knowing that cherry displays pose particular hazards to customers, chose to place this display in a part of the store that would make it more dangerous than an ordinary cherry display and compounded its error by disregarding its policy requiring mats around cherry displays." The attorneys in the case, Corupus Christi-based Thomas J. Henry for Briley, and James K. Floyd of Daw & Ray in San Antonio, did not respond to requests for comment.