A Baltimore man’s “slip and fall” lawsuit against Wal-Mart will be allowed to go forward after the appeals court ruled that the trial court should not have granted the store’s request to end the case in its early stages.
The appellate court of Maryland said that a statement by a Wal-Mart employee regarding whether the store knew about alleged liquid on the floor was not hearsay and should receive consideration.
The plaintiff filed the lawsuit against a Baltimore County Wal-Mart as a result of the accident while at the store. The man said he took a tumble because of a “slippery and wet substance” on the floor when he turned to ask his wife a question while at a check-out. The plaintiff said the store clerk who helped the plaintiff to get up off the floor said the custodial staff had been notified about the need to clean up but no one had responded. The clerk said he and several customers had notified store officials there was a substance on the floor that needed to be removed.
The plaintiff sued the store for negligence and damages for his injuries.
When deposed, the man’s wife said she had not seen any substance on the floor before or after the accident.
The store submitted an affidavit by another store cashier who testified that she saw the plaintiff fall but did not see any liquid on the floor. She also said that no customer had notified her of a substance on the floor. Another store employee testified that he did not see any liquid on the floor before or after the plaintiff’s fall.
Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment. The retailer argued there was no corroborating evidence that there was any liquid on the floor. The store also argued that, even if there was liquid on the floor, there was no evidence that Wal-Mart had notice of it. The store said the plaintiff’s testimony was not enough evidence to create the genuine issue of material fact needed to allow the case forward.
The trial judge granted Wal-Mart’s motion. The judge questioned whether the clerk’s statement was hearsay. The judge questioned whether the plaintiff could establish that Wal-Mart knew or should have known there was something on the floor. The judge said there was no evidence that Wal-Mart had constructive or actual knowledge of anything on the floor or had any opportunity to correct the condition before the plaintiff fell.
Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the defendant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. The Maryland rules prohibit hearsay unless an exception to the rule applies.
However, on appeal the court overruled the trial judge. The appeals court agreed with the plaintiff.
The court pointed out that the decision to grant summary judgment was based on the circuit court’s determination that the clerk’s statements constituted inadmissible hearsay. The appeals court said the trial court erred when it decided that the statements made by the clerk who said there was a substance on the floor were not authorized because he was not “higher up” in Wal-Mart’s hierarchy. The court pointed out that the store had identified the clerk as one of its agents in an answer to written questions submitted by the plaintiff.
The tribunal noted that the state’s top court had adopted the rule that statements by agents concerning a matter within the scope of the agent’s employment and made during the existence of the agency relationship should be admissible. As a result, the clerk’s statements were admissible, the court said.
The court noted that the clerk’s statements were made contemporaneously with the slip and fall about matters that were within the clerk’s personal knowledge and concerned activities that occurred in the store during the course of and within the scope of the clerk’s employment.
As a result, the appellate court reversed the grant of summary judgment and sent the case back to the circuit court for further legal proceedings.
If you have experienced a slip and fall at a retail or public business, an Ocean City “slip and fall” attorney can help. The attorneys at Maronick Law LLC have experience with Annapolis, Baltimore, Essex, Ocean City, Towson, White Marsh “slip and fall” matters.
Maronick Law LLC is open during the pandemic and continues to meet your legal needs. We can meet with you remotely if you have access to Zoom. You can contact the law office at 410-881-4022 or via our website for a free consultation.