In November 2013, Suzanne Barnum was injured when she tripped over a pallet jack in a Home Depot store in Joliet, Illinois. As a result, she is suing both Home Depot and an outside vendor for her injuries. In this particular case, the question of who left the pallet jack in the aisle has been difficult to answer. At the time of the incident, employees of Glenn Walters Nursery were in the store, and may have been assisting with the pallet jack. However, both nursery employees and Home Depot employees deny that they were responsible for leaving the pallet jack unattended. According to evidence, it could have been an employee of either company.
The home improvement retailer requested that Barnum’s injury and liability claims be dismissed, arguing that they are “based on speculation and, therefore, have not created a genuine issue of material fact showing that either defendant breached its duty of ordinary care to plaintiff.” Both Home Depot and Glenn Walters Nursery requested summary judgment, which is appropriate when a plaintiff fails to prove key elements of his or her claim.
“More Likely than Not”
Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox denied the request for a summary judgment, writing that: “In this case, the court finds that plaintiff has pointed to sufficient evidence in the record from which it can be inferred that either defendant was more likely than not to have left the pallet jack in the aisle of the garden center.”
The home goods giant and the local nursery have cited Piotrowski v. Menard in their arguments. In the Piotrowski case, a customer tripped over planter stones that had spilled onto a walkway at a Menard’s store. However, the stones could have ended up on the walkway for a number of reasons, including simply rolling out of the nearby planter, or that a customer or child moved them. In Barnum’s case, however, the explanations as to how the pallet jack ended up in the aisle are limited. Customers are not allowed to use or move pallet jacks, so the chance of anyone other than an employee or vendor being involved is slim to none.
Witness statements suggest that an employee from either company could have left the pallet jack in the aisle. There is evidence that nursery employees used it that morning, but also that a Home Depot employee helped them. Both continue to deny responsibility. A Boston personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.
“Glenn Walters Nursery’s internal communications suggest that it was a Home Depot employee, which is sufficient evidence to infer that it was more likely than not Home Depot that was responsible for leaving the pallet jack in the aisle, thereby defeating its motion for summary judgment,” wrote Cox. However, such evidence doesn’t exonerate nursery employees. As such, Glenn Walters’ request for summary judgment was also denied. Continue reading