7th Circuit affirms judgment for Walgreens in slip-and-fall case

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed summary judgment for a national drugstore chain after finding that an woman who fell in an Indiana Walgreens store failed to prove the store had knowledge of a hazard on its premises.

In Robin Austin v. Walgreen Company, 17-2629, Robin Austin slipped and fell in a Hebron Walgreens store. Though she said she did not see anything on the floor that would have caused her to fall, Austin said in her deposition that her right foot hit something wet, so she assumed she slipped on water.

But other patrons and store employees who assisted Austin after she fell testified that they did not see anything, including water, on the floor. However, Austin’s friend — who arrived at the store about seven minutes after the incident — testified to seeing “water everywhere” and took photos showing puddles of water in the general area of the fall. Paramedics who responded to the scene also recorded that Austin had told them she slipped in water.

Austin sustained a broken kneecap as a result of the fall and sued Walgreen Co. in state court. The case was eventually removed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, which granted Walgreen’s motion to strike Austin’s statement to the paramedics as inadmissible hearsay and granted the company’s summary judgment motion.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the grant of summary judgment on Friday, with Judge Daniel Manion writing that though Walgreen owed Austin a duty to exercise reasonable care for her protection while she was on the premises, Austin failed to prove that Walgreen had knowledge of the water on the floor. Thus, she failed to prove the company breached its duty of care to her.

“Austin presented no evidence of how long any alleged hazard was present on the floor,” Manion wrote. “Austin points to her own statement that she stepped on something and (her friend’s) photos showing the presence of water several minutes after the fall to show that a hazard existed, but those do not establish how long the hazard was on the floor before Austin encountered it.”

Though Austin argued the store had knowledge of the hazard because the assistant manager acknowledged that customers could have tracked in the snow that was outside on the day in question, the court found that knowledge that hazards were possible did not equate to knowledge that a hazard existed.

“Austin relies on nothing but speculation to suggest that the alleged hazard existed for any significant length of time before her fall,” Manion wrote. “Speculation does not defeat summary judgment.”

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