The classic comedic trope of slipping on a banana peel made a real-life appearance last March. A shopper by the name of Charles McDowell entered a Philadelphia Save-A-Lot store and slipped on a piece of banana that was on the store’s floor. But, McDowell wasn’t laughing about it. He claimed the fall caused him serious injuries. McDowell filed a lawsuit against Save-A-Lot, alleging that the store was negligent in failing to clean up the piece of banana.
Store owners have a duty to protect customers from foreseeable harm by cleaning up any dangerous conditions in a store. But, the claim ultimately failed because McDowell couldn’t prove that Save-A-Lot knew or should have known that the piece of banana was there. In other words, the harm wasn’t foreseeable because the risk wasn’t known. On June 13, 2016, Judge Robert Kelly of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of Save-A-Lot.
Judge Kelly found that there was no evidence whatsoever that Save-A-Lot had actual knowledge that the piece of banana was there. Therefore, the dispositive issue in this case was whether Save-A-Lot should have known about it. Even if a store owner is unaware of a risk, constructive knowledge can be imputed to them if a reasonably prudent store owner would have been aware of it. If constructive knowledge existed, the harm is considered foreseeable.
Generally, in these types of cases the issue of constructive knowledge turns on how long a hazard was present. If McDowell could have shown that the piece of banana had been on the floor long enough that reasonably prudent store cleaning procedures would have noticed it and cleaned it up, he would likely have won his case. But, McDowell couldn’t show this.
The upshot of the case is that plaintiffs must provide evidence showing constructive knowledge in these types of cases. Courts will not presume it. Store owners will not be found liable for a customer slip-and-fall unless the customer can provide clear direct or circumstantial evidence that the owner should have known about it.
The case, McDowell v. Moran Foods, LLC, No. 15-4995 (E.D. Pa. Jun 13, 2016), and can be found in full here.