My latest natural accumulation defense win involves two of my favorite nuisances of the rule – inside and water dripping from a shopping cart.
The plaintiff and her friend were walking into a large retail store and it was raining outside. The plaintiff walked through the electronic slide doors, walked over a floor mat and as she stepped off the mat she slipped and fell. (Sidenote: She was wearing crocs with a hole in the bottom of them and a manager photographed the bottom of her shoes – great job manager!)
The case was pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. After the plaintiff disclosed her liability expert, we filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to strike the plaintiff’s retained expert based on Daubert. We argued the defendant owed no duty to the plaintiff because she slipped in fell in a natural accumulation of rainwater.
The plaintiff seemed to admit the plaintiff fell as a result of a natural accumulation of rainwater, but alleged the defendant aggravated the natural accumulation by using an improperly thin floor mat. At her deposition, the plaintiff testified the entire vestibule should have been covered in floor mats. She also argued the defendant had a duty to warn her of the wet floor. Finally, and for the first time, the plaintiff argued the floor itself was unnaturally slippery when wet.
The District Court found the plaintiff lost as to each of her arguments. The Court noted that pursuant to the Illinois natural accumulation doctrine, property holders have no duty to place mats on the floor during inclement weather or replace mats once they are saturated, and therefore, there can be no requirement as to the thickness of the mat should one be used. In addition, because it was an admitted natural accumulation of water, the defendant was under no duty to warn Plaintiff about a potentially wet or slippery floor. The court also pointed out the plaintiff was on notice of the wet floor because she admitted it was raining and she saw the floor mat was wet as she entered the front vestibule. Lastly, because Plaintiff failed to make allegations about the floor itself in her Complaint, the Court ruled she was barred from “amending” her Complaint through her summary judgment response to make these claims. Therefore, summary judgment was granted in favor of the defendant.
Throughout discovery, before the summary judgment motion was filed, the plaintiff focused on three points with all of the fact witnesses: (1) the floor mat was thin and only just in front of the door; (2) the plaintiff did not see any wet floor signs as she entered the vestibule before she fell; and (3) minutes before the incident a store employee pushed a load of dripping wet shopping carts over the fall area. The focus on these three issues was the plaintiff’s downfall from the start because the Illinois natural accumulation doctrine is clear, concise and strong as to these following points:
- There is no duty to place a floor mat on the floor during inclement weather or replace a floor mat once it is saturated. (Reed v. Galaxy Holdings, Inc., 394 Ill.App.3d 39, 42 (1st Dist. 2009); Pytlewski v United States, 991 F.Supp. 1043, 1047 (ND Ill. 1998)).
- There is no duty to place any warnings or wet floor signs during inclement weather. (Weston v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 301 Fed. Appx. 538, 540 (7th Cir. 2008)).
- Rainwater dripping off shopping carts onto the floor as they are brought into the store by an employee is a natural accumulation of water. (Domkiene v. Menards, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119773).
- The natural accumulation doctrine applies inside the store. (Reed v. Galaxy Holdings, Inc., 394 Ill.App.3d 39, 42 (1st Dist. 2009)).
Once our summary judgment motion was filed, the plaintiff attempted to assert new arguments, but by then it was too late. The Court did not rule on the motion to strike the plaintiff’s expert because the summary judgment motion was granted. The court’s ruling is now final as no appeal was filed. A copy of the court’s opinion is below.