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Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers > Blog > Personal Injury > Federal Appeals Court Dismisses Slip and Fall Lawsuit Against Wal-Mart

Federal Appeals Court Dismisses Slip and Fall Lawsuit Against Wal-Mart


If you are injured in an accident on someone else’s property, you may have a personal injury claim based on the legal concept of premises liability. Under Georgia law, a property owner has a duty “to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe” for anyone they induce to come onto said premises. For example, a store open to the public must exercise ordinary care in keeping any public areas reasonably free of hazards or obstructions that might lead to an injury.

Active Negligence vs. Premises Liability in a Georgia Slip and Fall Case

The most common type of premises liability claims in Georgia involve “slip and fall” accidents. These are often the result of spilled liquid or some other hazard left unattended on the aisle of a store. A store owner may be liable even if they did not have prior knowledge of the hazard if it can be shown that they should have identified the problem through the exercise of ordinary care.

A recent decision from a federal appeals court, Mendez v. Wal-Mart, demonstrates the complexity of establishing such knowledge. In this case, the plaintiff was shopping with her grandchildren at a Wal-Mart in Lawrenceville. She was waiting at a customer service desk. At the same time, a Wal-Mart employee was pushing a shopping cart full of trash bags through the same area. Less than a minute later, the plaintiff walked through the same area where the cart had just been and slipped and fell.

The plaintiff subsequently sued Wal-Mart in state court. Wal-Mart had the case transferred to federal court. In federal court, Wal-Mart argued it could not be held liable for the accident since it lacked “actual or constructive notice” of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s fall, i.e., an apparent leak from one of the trash bags the employee was moving. In response, the plaintiff argued that her claim was based on the “active negligence” of the employee rather than premises liability. The judge rejected that argument and granted Wal-Mart’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing the lawsuit.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta subsequently affirmed the dismissal. The appeals court noted that “active negligence” was generally not applicable to slip and fall cases under Georgia law. Active negligence refers to a situation where an employee’s active negligence–as opposed to a condition of the property–causes someone’s injury. Here, the allegations clearly revolved around a condition of the property, i.e., a spill from the garbage that caused the plaintiff to slip and fall.

Contact Hawkins Spizman Today

Slip and fall cases are often more complicated than people realize. Large retailers like Wal-Mart are also quite skilled at defending against such claims. That is why you need to work with an experienced Gwinnett County personal injury lawyer who can review your case and advise you of your options. Contact Hawkins Spizman today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.



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