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Colleen Little v. Wal-Mart Stores

January 25, 2011

COLLEEN LITTLE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman Chief Judge, United States District Court

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, Chief Judge:

Plaintiff Colleen Little ("Little") alleges that defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ("Wal-Mart") is liable for injuries Little sustained when she "tripped on the raised edge of a floor mat" at a Wal-Mart store located at 9450 West Joliet Road in the Village of Hodgkins, Illinois, on February 2, 2007. (Dkt. No. 24 ("First Am. Compl.") ¶¶ 1, 6.) This court has jurisdiction over Little's state law claims for negligence (Count I) and premises liability (Count II) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), as the parties are of diverse citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Now pending before the court is Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 52.) For the reasons set forth below, Wal-Mart's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On February 2, 2007, Little arrived at the Hodgkin's Wal-Mart around 3:45 p.m., where she proceeded to cash a check at the Courtesy Desk in the front of the store. (Dkt. No. 54 ("WalMart's SMF") ¶¶ 10a, 10c.) As she left the store, Little tripped and fell on a mat in the vestibule area of the store. (Id. ¶ 10f.) Little reported to Wal-Mart employees that she sustained a "sore/painful upper right arm" due to her fall. (Dkt. No. 63 at 15-19 ("Little's Add'l Facts") ¶ 30.)

The outside weather on February 2, 2007, was dry, and Little was walking at a normal pace at the time she fell. (Wal-Mart's SMF ¶¶ 10b, 10d.) Little was not carrying anything other than her purse. (Id. ¶ 10b.) Little did not notice any "lips or areas that extended up" on the mat before she tripped and fell. (Wal-Mart's Ex. F ("Little Dep.") at 132:2-7; see also Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 1.) After her fall, Little looked back to see what had caused her fall and noticed that one area of the mat was puckered up about two inches from the rest of the mat. (Wal-Mart's SMF ¶¶ 10g, 10h.)

The mats used by Wal-Mart in the vestibule area of the Hodgkin's store were comprised of multiple pieces that attached together at seams. (Little's Add'l Facts ¶¶ 4-5, 8.) The mats were not attached to the floor, but were secured in place by an aluminum framing that surrounded the mats. (Id. ¶ 6; see also Dkt. No. 65 ("Wal-Mart's Resp. to Little's Add'l Facts")

¶ 6.) The mats were clicked in place at each end of the mat, with "little pieces of metal" that were located one at each corner and one in the middle. (Wal-Mart's Ex. H ("Simpson Dep.") at 31:8-33:19; see also Little's Add'l Facts ¶¶ 12-13; Wal-Mart's Resp. to Little's Add'l Facts ¶¶ 12-13.) The mats were approximately one-quarter inch to one-half inch think. (Wal-Mart's SMF ¶¶ 13e, 19d.)

Once a week, Wal-Mart employees lifted the mats to clean the area underneath. (Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 9.) The mats were also taken out of their framing, in sections, every three to six months for cleaning. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) After cleaning, the mats were clicked back into place. (Id. ¶ 12.)

Arturo Moreno ("Moreno") worked the night shift in the maintenance department of the Hodgkins Wal-Mart store from 2000--2009. (Wal-Mart's SMF ¶¶ 19a, 19b.) As part of his job, Moreno cleaned the mats in the vestibule once per week. (Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 18.) Several times per year, as he was cleaning the vestibule, Moreno noticed that the mats had separated at the seams. (Id. ¶ 17; Wal-Mart's Resp. to Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 19.) From 2006--2007, this type of separation occurred "about once a week, and then sometimes it was once a month."*fn1 (Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 19; see also Wal-Mart's Ex. K ("Moreno Dep.") at 20:9-11.) The width of the separation between the mats was approximately one-half inch and went all the way across the seam. (Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 20.) When Moreno witnessed a separation in the seams, he corrected it by pushing the mats together with his hands. (Id. ¶ 16; Wal-Mart's Resp. to Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 16.) Moreno testified that he never witnessed one seam up higher than the other. (Wal-Mart's SMF ¶ 19e.)

Jack Simpson ("Simpson") has worked as a maintenance associate for Wal-Mart for approximately seven years. (Id. ¶ 13a.) As part of his duties, Simpson was responsible for cleaning the vestibule area, including the rubber mats, when the store was closed. (Id. ¶ 13b.) Simpson would lift the mats up and clean out the area under them from time to time, but not on a daily or weekly basis. (Id. ¶ 13c.) Two to three times per year, Simpson noticed that the mats had separated at the seams. (Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 22.) The width of the separation between the mats was approximately one-eighth inch to one-quarter inch. (Wal-Mart's Resp. to Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 22.) Simpson also testified that he observed a "portion of the mat raised up from another portion of the mat," such that "one mat [was] laying on top of the other height-wise." (Simpson Dep. 64:16-20.) The associated height difference was "less than a quarter inch or inch." (Id. at 64:23-65:12.) Whenever Simpson observed a separation at the seams of the mats, he got down and put the seams back together and stood on them with his body weight to make sure there was not a trip hazard. (Little's Add'l Facts ¶ 21.)

Other Wal-Mart employees, including overnight maintenance associate Bernardino Aquilar, maintenance associate Pablo Franco, and sales associate/cart attendant Nathan Van Amburg do not recall ever seeing the seams of the mats in the vestibule separated. (Wal-Mart's SMF ¶¶ 16, 17a, 17d, 22, 23a, 23c, 26, 27a, 27b.) These employees either did not participate in cleaning the mats and the area underneath the mats, or did so only on rare occasions. (Id. ¶¶ 17c, 23b; Dkt. No. 63 ("Little's Resp. to Wal-Mart's SMF") ¶ 27b.) Maintenance associate Catherine Rodriquez testified that Wal-Mart maintenance associates working during store hours would perform security sweeps and check store aisles, bathrooms, and the vestibule area for any hazards on the floor. (Wal-Mart's SMF ¶¶ 21a, 21b.)

According to Little, the mat in the vestibule on February 2, 2007, was worn, old, and dirty at the time of her fall. (Id. ¶ 32.)

LEGAL STANDARD

A grant of summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "A factual dispute is 'material' only if the dispute's resolution might change the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Spivey v. Adaptive Marketing LLC, 622 F.3d 816, 822 (7th Cir. 2010). "There is no genuine issue of material fact when no reasonable jury ...


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