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Corley v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 30, 2015



KEVIN H. SHARP, District Judge.

This is a premises liability case that arose after Plaintiff Sabrina Corley slipped and hurt her knee while shopping at a Wal-Mart store. After a three day trial, a jury found Defendant Wal-Mart-Stores East L.P. to be 90% at fault for the accident and awarded Plaintiff Sabrina Corley $525, 000 in damages. Now pending before the Court is Defendant's fully briefed "Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law and, Alternatively for a New Trial" (Docket No. 107). That Motion will be denied.

I. Governing Standards

"[A] renewed motion for a judgment as a matter of law... may be granted only if in viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact for the jury, and reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion, in favor of the moving party.'" Arnold v. Wilder, 657 F.3d 353, 363 (6th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). "In entertaining a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court is to review all evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, without making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." Jackson v. FedEx Corp. Servs., Inc., 518 F.3d 388, 392 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing, Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51(2000)). "In other words, the decision to grant judgment as a matter of law or to take the case away from the jury is appropriate whenever there is a complete absence of pleading or proof on an issue material to the cause of action or when no disputed issues of fact exist such that reasonable minds would not differ.'" Id . (quoting, Jackson v. Quantex Corp., 191 F.3d 647, 657 (6th Cir. 1999)).

In diversity cases, federal procedural law applies in determining whether a party is entitled to a new trial. Armisted v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 675 F.3d 989, 994 (6th Cir. 2012). Under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may grant a new trial after a jury verdict "for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of the United States." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). The Sixth Circuit has interpreted this Rule to require a new trial only "when a jury has reached a seriously erroneous result' as evidenced by (1) the verdict being against the [clear] weight of the evidence; (2) the damages being excessive; or (3) the trial being unfair to the moving party in some fashion, i.e., the proceedings being influenced by prejudice or bias." Decker v. GE Healthcare, Inc., 770 F.3d 378, 394-95 (6th Cir. 2014) (brackets in original, citation omitted).

II. Discussion

At trial, it was undisputed that, on the afternoon of November 7, 2011 at the Wal-Mart store in Antioch, Tennessee, Plaintiff twisted her knee on water that was present on the floor at the end of aisle six. In fact, both the slip and the employees' efforts to clean up the spill were captured on videotape and the jury viewed that videotape, probably more times than they would have liked. What was disputed, and what serves as the primary basis for the present Motion, is whether Defendant was negligent.

"To establish negligence, one must prove: (1) a duty of care owed by defendant to plaintiff; (2) conduct falling below the applicable standard of care that amounts to a breach of that duty; (3) an injury or loss; (4) cause in fact; and (5) proximate, or legal, cause." McCall v. Wilder, 913 S.W.2d 150, 153 (Tenn. 1995). "In the context of a premises liability case, the Tennessee courts have stated that a business owner breaches the duty of care owed to its customers when it allows a dangerous condition or defect to exist on the premises if that condition or defect was created by the owner, operator or his agent; or, if the condition is created by someone else, when the business owner had actual or constructive notice that the dangerous condition or defect existed prior to the injury." Morris v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. 330 F.3d 854, 858 (6th Cir. 2003).

"[T]he duty owed a customer by a proprietor of a place of business is to exercise reasonable care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe and suitable condition, including the duty of removing or warning against a dangerous condition traceable to persons for whom the proprietor is not responsible[.]'" Simmons v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 713 S.W.2d 640, 641 (Tenn. 1986) (quoting, Allison v. Blount Nat'l Bank, 54 Tenn. Ct. App. 359, 390 S.W.2d 716, 718 (1965)). Thus, "[t]he plaintiff in a premises liability action must prove the existence of a dangerous or defective condition that (1) was caused or created by the owner, operator, or his agent, or (2) if the condition was created by someone other than the owner, operator, or his agent, there must be actual or constructive notice on the part of the owner or operator that the condition existed prior to the accident.'" Dickerson v. Rutherford Cnty., 2013 WL 1501783 at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. April 11, 2013) (quoting, Martin v. Washmaster Auto Ctr., USA, 946 S.W.2d 314, 318 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996)).

The jury was duly instructed on the applicable law. Specifically, the jury was informed that an owner of property has the duty to exercise reasonable care to remove or replace known conditions that present a safety hazard and that

An owner or occupier of property may have either actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition. Constructive notice can be established by proving that the dangerous condition existed for a sufficient length of time that the premises owner or occupier, by exercising due care, should have discovered the dangerous condition.
Therefore, to recover for an injury caused by an unsafe condition of the property, the plaintiff must show that the defendant either created the unsafe condition or knew of it long enough to have corrected it or given adequate warning of it before plaintiff's injury, or that the unsafe condition existed long enough that the defendant, using ordinary care, should have discovered and corrected or adequately warned of the unsafe condition. An unsafe condition is a condition which creates an unreasonable risk of harm.
On the other hand, an owner, occupant or lessor of property is not an insurer of the safety of those who enter an establishment, and does not have a duty to guarantee the safety of those entering upon the property. Further, the duty imposed on the premises owner or occupier does not include the responsibility to remove ...

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