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Walker v. Target Corporation

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

July 3, 2017




         For the reasons below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [78] as to liability. Specifically, the Court grants the motion as to Plaintiffs' punitive damages claim, but it denies the motion in all other respects.

         I. Background

         This is a slip-and-fall case. Plaintiff Debra Walker slipped in a puddle of water while shopping at Target in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She claims that the fall caused her to sustain permanently disabling injuries. Her husband claims a loss of consortium. They demanded a wide variety of damages. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [78] as to liability, which the Court now addresses.

         II. Standard of Review

         Rule 56 provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. “An issue is ‘genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010).

         The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

         III. Discussion

         A. Debra Walker's Premises Liability Claim

         In a premises liability case, the plaintiff must prove the four elements of common-law negligence: (1) duty, (2) breach of duty, (3) causation, and (4) damages. Rogers v. Sunbelt Mgmt. Co., 52 F.Supp.3d 816, 822 (S.D.Miss. 2014). The duty owed to the plaintiff depends on his or her status as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. Doe v. Miss. State Fed'n of Colored Women's Club Housing for the Elderly in Clinton, Inc., 941 So.2d 820, 826 (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). Therefore, “[p]remises liability analysis under Mississippi law requires three determinations: (1) legal status of the injured person, (2) relevant duty of care, and (3) defendant's compliance with that duty.” Wood v. RIH Acquisitions MS II LLC, 556 F.3d 274, 275 (5th Cir. 2009); see also Leffler v. Sharp, 891 So.2d 152, 156 (Miss. 2004).

         It is undisputed that Plaintiff was an invitee at the time of the accident. “Mississippi law imposes upon a business owner or operator a duty to the invitee to keep its premises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of dangerous conditions which are not readily apparent to the invitee.” K-Mart Corp. v. Hardy, 735 So.2d 975, 981 (Miss. 1999). However, a business owner is not an insurer against all accidents and injuries that may occur on its premises. Anderson v. B. H. Acquisitions, Inc., 771 So.2d 914, 918 (Miss. 2000). Furthermore, mere proof of the existence of a fall within a business is insufficient to recover on a negligence claim. Rod v. Home Depot USA, Inc., 931 So.2d 692, 695 (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). To prove a premises liability claim, a plaintiff-invitee must show either:

(1) a negligent act of the defendant caused her injury; (2) the defendant had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition, but failed to warn the plaintiff; or (3) the defendant should have known about the dangerous condition, in that the dangerous condition existed for a sufficient amount of time to impute constructive knowledge to the defendant.

Id. at 694-95 (citing Byrne v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 877 So.2d 462, 465 (Miss. Ct. App.2004)).

         Plaintiffs contend that a Target employee caused Mrs. Walker's injury. They argue that a Target employee left a refrigerated cart full of products in the aisle, and that condensation dripped from the cart onto the floor, creating the puddle of water in ...

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