When an injury occurs in Georgia, determining the best course of legal action is key to the successful recovery of damages. A recent case from the Eleventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals highlights the choice of legal theory and how it is presented at trial can result in an unfavorable outcome. In Thews v. Wal-mart Stores, Inc. (No. 13-11455) the appellate court addressed the questions of whether the injured woman presented a theory of general negligence at trial, and whether the Federal District Court erred in issuing a Judgment as a Matter of Law (JMOL) against the injured. To make these determinations, the federal court applied Florida substantive law. Upon review, the Court ultimately upheld the JMOL against the injured woman and agreed that the legal theory of general negligence was not presented at trial.
The woman suffered a catastrophic injury after she fell in the shopping cart vestibule at Wal-Mart. The injured woman suffered serious spinal injuries which required surgery to place two titanium rods and eight screws into her spine. When the woman fell in the vestibule, a Wal-Mart employee was pushing carts into the vestibule, but the Court of Appeals pointed to a lack of available evidence which would connect the moving stack of carts with the woman’s injuries. To recover monetary damages in any civil action, the plaintiff must show that the alleged at-fault party owed the injured a duty, and that the failure to uphold this duty resulted in the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. In this case, the woman alleged that Wal-Mart failed in its duty to her by failing to properly train its employees, improperly designing and maintaining the shopping cart vestibule area, and failing to warn customers that the shopping cart might be pushed toward them. The Court of Appeals pointed out that the Complaint did not allege vicarious liability against Wal-Mart for negligence of its employees in mishandling shopping carts.
In personal injury actions, employers can be held responsible for the actions of their employees performed while they were working. The Court of Appeals pointed out that the injured’s complaint didn’t point to the employee’s actions as the cause of the woman’s injuries. Had the complaint included this allegation, the jury may have been able to consider whether the employee negligently performed his duties while pushing the carts, and that as his employer Wal-Mart was also responsible and ultimately liable for the woman’s injuries. Instead, the injured’s case at trial focused on safety rules and Wal-Mart’s duty to make sure they are followed so that patrons can take a cart and remain uninjured. There injured’s case did not focus on the negligence of the employees or Wal-Mart’s liability as an employer. The Court of Appeals noted that in pursuit of the allegations in the complaint, the jury was not provided with any evidence or testimony that would reveal the industry standard of care for shopping cart vestibules. Based on this absence of evidence to uphold the legal theory presented, the Court of Appeals upheld the JMOL against the injured. Continue reading