I am frequently asked that question. The answer is not easy.
In a recent case filed by Tyler Young of Provo against Smith’s Food stores, Tyler argued that his client should be entitled to compensation when she slipped and fell on a puddle of water. The trial judge disagreed.
What the case came down to is: did the store know about the water. The court found that the store did not know about the water. If the store had known about the water and failed to clean it up, then yes the store would be negligent. Because the store didn’t know about the water, the court was forced to ask a second question. Should the store have known about the water? That question is harder. In almost all slip and fall cases in stores, that second question determines whether the case is a winner or a loser.
Unfortunately, the customer is not in a position to know if the store should have known about the puddle. With investigation, sometimes evidence can be found. In a case several years ago, a court found that a store was at fault when a customer slipped and fell on spaghetti because the spaghetti was broken into small pieces and spread over several aisles. That showed it had been there for a long time. In another case, a court found a store not liable because the customer could not show how long a puddle had been on the floor.
In Mr. Young’s case, the court said there was enough evidence to present the case to a jury. The investigation had shown that a vendor had set up a booth in the store and had spilled the water when closing the booth at 5:00 p.m. The customer fell between 5:00 and 5:20 p.m. If the jury believes the water was on the floor long enough for Smith’s to discover it, the jury can make Smith’s pay for the injuries. If not, Smith’s will pay nothing.