Jury Clears Big Lots In 'Slip And Stumble' Premises Liability Suit

Posted by David Siegel on Sep 25, 2018 5:50:02 PM

Higgins openings

CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Jillian Hayes delivering her opening statement

San Diego, CA - A California state court jury has rejected claims from a woman alleging that lack of regular cleaning in a Big Lots store caused her to slip on a dirty floor. 

Diana Higgins claims she sustained shoulder and neck injuries requiring two surgeries in 2016, when a patch of dirt supposedly sent her stumbling into a soda display shelf. Her attorney, Jillian Hayes of CaseyGerry, told jurors during her opening statement the accident occurred due to Big Lots’ lack of a corporate policy to ensure their floors are regularly swept.

“This is not just a case about somebody who slipped. This is a company that slipped up,” Hayes said, according to Courtroom View Network’s webcast of the trial's opening statements. 

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Big Lots denied any responsibility for the incident, arguing Higgins’ alleged ongoing pain is the result of numerous pre-existing conditions, and that Big Lots has multiple procedures in place to ensure their retail locations are safe for customers.

Hayes played security camera footage that she said showed a cashier sweeping up around the checkout area but then being asked for assistance by another customer. While the cashier speaks with that customer, Higgins, 58, walks up with her shopping cart to a space between two checkout stations the cashier hadn’t swept.

The footage shows Higgins suddenly becoming unsteady and lurching into a nearby shelf, then righting herself and unloading items from her cart.

Hayes said Higgins suffered a torn meniscus in her knee and a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder, which was immediately indicated by the fact she began unloading items from her cart using her non-dominant hand.

Hayes told jurors that Big Lots doesn’t employ any kind of sweeping schedule to ensure their floors are regularly cleaned, and instead instructs employees to clean the floors on an “as needed” basis even during busy holiday shopping seasons.

“Big Lots is responsible for the dirty walkways in their store and should be responsible for the harm they have caused Ms. Higgins,” she said.

Big Lots attorney Michael Parme of Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP told jurors the security video and Higgins’ own medical records clearly show she didn’t suffer any serious injuries as a result of dirt on the floor.

“Video doesn’t lie,” Parme said. “Video doesn’t forget.”

Parme described how Higgins had a neck injury years before the incident that required spinal fusion surgery and also had an unrepaired ACL tear in the knee she claims was injured in the store. He said those conditions are responsible for the pain she suffers today, and that any new injuries she suffered in Big Lots couldn’t have been severe, since she didn’t seek any medical treatment until 10 days after the accident.

Parme also played a portion of the security footage that shows Higgins lifting a 32-pack of bottled water after she slipped. He lifted a similarly sized pack of water in front of jurors, arguing that would be extremely difficult for someone with the type of shoulder injury Higgins claims she suffered.

He said video footage shows 22 other customers walking past the same area as Higgins on the day of the accident without slipping and noted that despite losing her balance she remained upright the entire time. He suggested the footage doesn’t show any type of debris between the checkout stations.

“There is no visible unsafe condition on that floor,” Parme said. “She did not fall.”

The trial took place before Judge Randa Trapp. 

Gavel-to-gavel video of trial's opening statements is available to CVN subscribers.

The case is captioned Diana Higgins v. Big Lots Stores Inc., case number 37-2017-00012463-CU-PO-CTL in San Diego County Superior Court.

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Topics: California