Most appellate decisions and jury verdicts involving Costco are the result of slip or trip and falls. If you slipped or tripped and fell at a Costco in Florida, then you must prove that Costco knew or should have known (constructive notice) that the substance that you fell on was on the floor before you fell.
You should request store video (I describe how to do this further below). The video may show whether there was a substance on the floor before your fall and how long it existed there.
You can help prove that Costco should have known the substance was on the floor if you observed smudges, shopping cart track marks, footprints or a dirty substance.
In cases where video does not exist, it is generally easier to prove that you Costco should have known the substance was on the floor before your fall when the item that you fell on is a liquid or food as opposed to a solid substance that does not contain liquid.
This is because you can argue that smudges, shopping cart track marks, footprints or a dirty substance show that substance was there for some time.
Examples of substances that you may slip on in Costco that may make your case easier to prove your case if there are smudges, shopping cart track marks, footprints or dirt on the substance are the following:
- a beverage (dirty water, soda, coffee)
- fruit (squishy or old)
- a deli item (meat, cheese, etc.)
- meat and seafood
- cooking oil or baking sauces
- a snack that does not have a container
- an item from the bakery or dessert
- beer, wine or liquor
- a flower
Actual Case (not mine): $1 Million dollars for a Femur fracture from slip and fall at a Miami-Dade County, Florida Costco.
Costco was 55% at fault and the shopper was found to be 45% at fault. I assume that $1,000,000 was awarded for the pain and suffering component of the damages. If so, this is above the usual settlement range for the “full value” of the pain and suffering component a fractured femur in a Florida personal injury case.
This case shows that you may still have a great case even if the claims adjuster tells you that the store is not responsible. The verdict was in 2009. The case is Tamir v. Costco.
If a Costco claims adjuster tells you that video does not exist, do not listen to him or her!
Court lets another Miami-Dade County, Florida slip and fall case against Costco go to trial
Let’s take a look at an actual Miami-Dade County lawsuit (not mine). In Cisneros v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 754 So.2d 819, 820 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000), a woman, represented by a Coral Gables, Miami-Dade County lawyer, sued Costco Wholesale Corp.
Costco’s appellate lawyer, William J. Johnson, Jr., was from Tallahassee.
Though the appeal was decided in 2000, the case is still good law. In fact, it was cited as recently as 2015 by a federal court in Florida in a Walmart slip and fall case.
On September 11, 1997, plaintiff (the woman) entered the Costco Warehouse in Miami to shop. She was in the store approximately fifteen minutes when she walked back to where the cash registers are located in order to get a cart.
While passing the area in front of the registers, she slipped and fell. Plaintiff saw nothing on the floor prior to her fall.
After her fall, she observed a line of something through which a few wheel tracks and several footprints had been made. She was assisted by a Costco employee who had brought a wheelchair and helped her into it.
The employee then wheeled her into the manager’s office, where she remained until an ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital. Independent eyewitness Irma Sandoval said that she worked for an independent contractor at the time of plaintiffs accident.
Sandoval was demonstrating jellybeans at a table approximately nine to thirteen feet from where the plaintiff fell. Sandoval observed plaintiff walking approximately three or four meters away and saw her fall to the floor between the location where Sandoval was demonstrating jellybeans and the checkout aisle.
Approximately five minutes before plaintiffs fall, Sandoval had observed water spilled on the floor from an adjacent flower display, maintained by another independent contractor. Sandoval took a paper towel and wiped up the water.
At that time, she observed the general area, including the area where the plaintiff had fallen. It was clean and free of any foreign substances.
While Sandoval saw track marks in the line of liquid soap, she said that the liquid soap had only been on the floor for a short time.
The source of the liquid soap was a cart, which was pushed through the area just before the plaintiff’s arrival.
Immediately after the accident, Sandoval observed the cart with the leaking soap. The cart had moved only four or five meters from the scene of the accident.
Immediately after plaintiff’s fall, Sandoval and Costco employees observed a thin thread of liquid soap emanating from the cart in question. They followed the trail and found a male customer with the leaking cart half way through the aisle.
One of the Costco employees then stopped the customer and cleaned up the mess. Costco employee Angela Lawson said that on the day of the accident, she was on duty in the Member Service Department, located near the front entrance to the warehouse.
She was called to the office to interview the plaintiff after the fall. Immediately after the fall, she inspected the scene of the accident as part of her investigation.
She testified that Sandoval was twenty-seven feet away from the plaintiff at the time of the fall. There was a trail of liquid detergent from the laundry aisle, where the liquid detergent is displayed, running directly to the cash registers, where the cart containing the leaky bottle was located.
Lawson took photographs of the trail of detergent at the scene. The cart that was the source of that trail was still in front of the register when Lawson arrived.
Lawson came to the conclusion that the detergent had been on the floor for the amount of time it took the cart to go from the laundry aisle to the register.
The trial court found that the source of the detergent on the floor and the length of time it had been there was five minutes or less and that there was no other testimony that this was not true.
The plaintiff argued that based on circumstantial evidence, specifically, dirty footprints, track marks, and a wet substance on Costco’s floor, this case should have gone to the jury as there was a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether Costco had constructive notice of the dangerous condition. We agree.
Florida law is clear that “constructive notice may be shown by presenting evidence that the condition existed for such a length of time that, in exercise of ordinary care, the defendant should have known of the condition.”
Costco’s Raised to Arguments
Costco raised two arguments worthy of discussion. First, it argued that the undisputed evidence establishes that the liquid detergent in question could not have been on the floor for more than five minutes. The second argument seeks to support the first.
Costco argued that when the shopping cart containing the leaking detergent was identified, there was no pooling of liquid detergent underneath the cart. Such pooling would have been present had the cart been stationed at that location for any significant period of time.
The fact that no such pooling was present, Costco assumed, establishes that the cart traversed the distance between the laundry supply aisle and its ultimate resting place within a very short span of time. The appeals court disagreed that this is the only interpretation possible.
The court was unconvinced that the absence of pooling of the liquid detergent underneath the grocery cart establishes the timing argued by Costco. The court said that it could not find evidence that there was no pooling of liquid detergent underneath the grocery cart in question.
The only question regarding this issue was put to Ms. Lawson during her deposition as follows:
“Q. Was there any large puddle of detergent under the cart when you arrived at the scene?
The testimony was that there was no large puddle under the cart. This does not exclude the possibility that there may have been some liquid detergent under the cart, a question that was not asked by either side.
Nevertheless, assuming for the sake of argument, that there was no pooling, an example serves to discredit Costco’s position. If the leak emanated from a hole on the bottom of the detergent bottle, the scenario proposed by Costco might be correct.
However, if the hole was on the high end of the bottle, the liquid content would spill out only until such time as the level of the liquid inside the bottle dropped below the level of the hole. This could result in only a momentary leak.
On this issue, witness Angela Lawson testified in her deposition as follows:
“Q. Where was the leak coming from?
A. It was coming, it was turned sideways and it was dripping from the cap from, dripping, from it being sideways it was dripping out of the cap.
Q. From a visual sight of the cap, did the cap appear to be on the bottle?
Q. Did the cap appear to be opened at the time you saw it, if you recall?
A. The cap was on the laundry detergent bottle. I didn’t do any further checking of it.”
Although there was no hole in the bottle, the same reasoning discussed above is still applicable. Depending on the shape of the bottle, the exact location of the cap as the bottle lay on its side and the volume of liquid contained therein, the leak may have been only momentary.
Under such circumstances there would have been no pooling even if the cart had been there for a considerable period of time. When viewed in the light most favorable to the shopper, the appeals court did not agree that the evidence shows that the liquid detergent could not have been on the floor for a period in excess of five minutes.
When questioned on the issue of time at her deposition, Ms. Lawson testified as follows:
“Q. Were you able to determine, Ms. Lawson, from your investigation how long the detergent was on the floor.
A. A specific time, no.
Q. Now you say recently. What do you base that on?
A. Because there was a floor walk done in between every hour that it’s done and had to have occurred between the floor walks.
Q. So it could have occurred one or 59 minutes before the client fell, is that the longest time period that, that we could give on that, hourly checks?
A. Half hour, 45 minutes.”
Viewing the facts of this case in the light most favorable to the the shopper, the appeals court determined that there are genuine issues of material fact which should be decided by a jury. Accordingly, they let the case continue to trial.
 Ms. Lawson had previously testified that a floor walk “is a walk that’s done on an hourly basis to check the building for safety and security issues.”
Trip and Falls
If you can’t get a store video and there were not any witnesses to your incident, then your case may be more difficult if you tripped and fell on one of the following substances:
- A baby or kids toy
- A gift card
- Hardware or a tire
- Patio furniture
- A sports or fitness item
But even if you tripped on one of the items above, you still could have a great case. For example, perhaps you remember that no one was in the area where you tripped for 15-20 minutes before you fell.
Slip and Fall Cases Against Costco’s competitors in Florida
Costco’s has several major competitors in Florida. I have written informative articles on slip and falls at some of its competitors’ stores in Florida. A few of them are below:
- Target Stores slip and fall claims in Florida
- Wal-Mart Stores slip and fall claims in Florida
- Publix slip and fall claims in Florida
- BJ’s Wholesale Club slip and fall claims in Florida (Coming Soon)
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