A common issue that arises in slip-and-fall litigation is whether the business owner had knowledge of the foreign substance on which a plaintiff slipped and fell. Given that employees are generally not inclined to acknowledge their actual knowledge of the dangerous condition, plaintiffs must typically use direct or circumstantial evidence to show “constructive knowledge” of the foreign substance. Thus, many cases turn on what evidence the plaintiff and the defendant present to show or rebut constructive knowledge of the foreign substance. This battle is pointedly illustrated in Alatrista v. Publix Super Markets, Inc., a recent decision from the Atlanta Division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
This case arose from a slip-and-fall at a local Publix Supermarket. The plaintiff in this case and her boyfriend were shopping at the supermarket when the plaintiff slipped and fell on a puddle of clear liquid on the floor of the main aisle just beyond the cash registers at the store. The plaintiff testified that she had not seen the puddle prior to falling, and that, even after the fall, the puddle was not visible from a standing position. The plaintiff’s boyfriend also testified that he inspected the area after the fall and stated that the puddle was difficult to see. Publix has a stated “Don’t Pass It Up — Pick It Up” policy, and four employees testified that they, in accordance with this policy, inspected the area shortly before the incident. Each employee testified that he or she did not see any foreign substance when he or she passed the area and that he or she would have cleared the substance had he or she noticed it. The plaintiff brought suit against Publix for injuries associated with the fall, and, following discovery, the Publix moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no issue of material fact for a jury to determine with respect to Publix’s constructive knowledge of the alleged puddle such that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.