Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Martin v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 18, 2017

JOANN MARTIN, Plaintiff,


          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge.

         While trying to reach an item on the top shelf of a freezer in a Wal-Mart store, Plaintiff Joan Martin stepped on a security rail. The rail collapsed. Martin fell and injured herself. Martin has sued Defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”), alleging that Wal-Mart was negligent in maintaining the security rail, failing to make certain that the customer area was free from dangerous conditions, and permitting the dangerous conditions to be present. Now before this Court is Wal-Mart's motion to bar Martin's expert witness from testifying at trial (Dkt. No. 38) and its motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 39). For the reasons explained below, Wal-Mart's motion to bar the expert is granted but its motion for summary judgment is denied.


         At the summary judgment stage, the Court views the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and draws all reasonable inferences in her favor. See Smith v. Hope School, 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009).

         In April 2013, Martin went to a Wal-Mart store located in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Def.'s Response to Pl.'s L.R. 56(b)(3)(C) Statement of Additional Facts (“DRPSAF”) ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 62.) While in a freezer section, Martin tried to get some fish sticks that were on the top shelf toward the back of the freezer but could not reach them. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 5.) She looked around to see if there was anyone to help her but did not see anyone in the aisle. (Id. ¶ 6.) Martin then saw a security rail that ran parallel to the floor in front of the freezer section. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         The security rail consisted of red or orange plastic sheathing, intermittently supported by metal bars affixed to the floor. (Id.) The security rail did not have a metal bar running through its entire length. (Id.) Rather, the plastic sheathing pieces covered the intermittent metal bars as well as the gaps between the metal bars. (Id.) This security rail was purportedly installed to prevent shopping carts from bumping into freezer doors. (Pl.'s Response to Def.'s Amended LR 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“PRDSUF”) ¶ 34, Dkt. No. 54.) However, Martin was not aware of the intended function of the rail, there were no warning signs saying not to step on the rail, and Wal-Mart did not have any kind of policy prohibiting people from stepping on the rail. (Id. ¶ 16; DRPSAF ¶¶ 20, 21.)

         Martin claims that she put her foot on the security rail to test it out before stepping on it- and the rail seemed sturdy. (DRPSAF ¶ 9.) She stepped on the rail, then stepped on the freezer door frame, reached up for the fish sticks, and, as she was coming down, stepped on the security rail again. (Id. ¶ 10; PRDSUF ¶ 17.) But on her way down, the rail underneath Martin collapsed and she fell. (DRPSAF ¶ 10.) She sustained various injuries as a result of her fall, for which she now seeks compensation.

         After Martin fell, paramedics were called to the store. (PRDSUF ¶ 23.) Wal-Mart assistant manager Aracely Jerez also responded to the incident. (Id. ¶ 21.) Jerez asked Martin what happened but did not get a response. (Id. ¶ 22.) Jerez then took photographs of the place where Martin fell. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 33.) The photos show a freezer section consisting of several compartments, with a piece of cardboard covering one of the freezer doors, a piece of a plastic sheathing missing from the security rail in front of that freezer door (with some of the underlying metal bar of the security rail not covered by the sheathing), and Martin laying on the floor. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27, 31; Ex. F to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“DSUF”), Dkt. No. 41-6.)

         While the photos show that the security rail is missing a piece of the sheathing, during her deposition in connection with this case, Jerez testified that on the day of the incident, there were no broken parts of the security rail laying around. (PRDSUF ¶ 30; Ex. E to DSUF at 36, Dkt. No. 41-5.) Jerez also stated that the rail in the photos that she took looked the same as the rail was originally set up on the floor-although she later clarified that the rail actually should have a plastic sheathing covering the underlying metal bar. (PRDSUF ¶ 31; Ex. E to DSUF at 31, 33, 34.) Wal-Mart asset protection manager Willie Smith also testified that Jerez's photo depicts the way that the security rail at the Wal-Mart always appeared. (Ex. G to DSUF at 39, 40, Dkt. No. 41-7.) On the other hand, Martin testified that the security rail she stepped on did not have any gaps and that it broke when she stepped on it. (DRPSAF ¶¶ 10, 11.)

         In connection with her case, Martin offers expert opinions and testimony from Lloyd M. Sonenthal, which Wal-Mart seeks to bar. Sonenthal has an educational background in engineering mechanics and law; he is a consulting forensic engineer. (Exhs. to Def.'s Mot. to Bar Pl.'s Expert at 1, 2, Dkt. No. 38-1.)[1] To prepare his opinions, Sonenthal reviewed photos, read deposition transcripts (including those of Martin and Jerez), searched the Internet to find renovation manuals for other Wal-Mart stores, and reviewed the description of an alternative security railing system (which had a metal bar running through its entire length) depicted in these renovation manuals. (Id. at 3-8, 38.) However, he did not visit Wal-Mart stores in connection with his research, did not see the security rail system at issue in the present case in person, did not conduct any testing on the materials, and did not take any measurements. (Id. at 35.)

         Sonenthal has offered the following conclusions regarding the present case. First, he opines that the security rail “was foreseeably an available stepping point for a customer to obtain sufficient height to reach the upper shelf of the freezer unit to access product on the upper shelf.” (Id. at 8.) Second, based on to the alternative railing system design he discovered in the manuals on the Internet, he concludes that the security rail at issue in the present case “should have and could have . . . been adequate to support the weight of a customer.” (Id.) Third, he suggests that if Wal-Mart did not want a customer to step on the security rail, Wal-Mart should have put a “NOT A STEP” or “DO NOT USE AS A STEP” sign on it, especially since a customer would not know that the rail is not supported by the metal bar throughout its length. (Id. at 8, 9.) Fourth, he concludes that “the plastic tubing invited the customer to stand upon it, without knowledge of the danger attendant thereto, and was therefore an unreasonably dangerous condition” that was known to Wal-Mart, but not the customer, and that was not discoverable by reasonable inspection. (Id. at 9.)


         I. Motion to Bar Expert

         The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 703, as construed by Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,509 U.S. 579 (1993). SeeKrik v. Exxon Mobil ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.