Case of the Month: A Laundromat Fall

Feb 1, 2015 by

It was a rainy week. The plaintiff, a 61 year-old former librarian wore her rain boots when she walked into a commercial self-serve laundromat.

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As she turned right and walked a few feet into the store, she slipped and fell, fracturing her hip. This required prosthesis surgery with the prospect of another surgery in five years. She also had right thigh and groin pain. She was limited in her ability to bend and get out of a chair, and she could not walk long distances. She sued for her current and future medical costs.

The laundromat owners disputed her allegations, contending that the victim fell because her legs were uneven and weak, adding that she had a history of falling. The defense also disputed the prognosis of the medical treatment arguing that no second surgery was necessary. They also said that they put down cardboard inside the entrance each time rain was forecast.

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The injured woman’s counsel hired GEI to examine the linoleum floor and opine about the general level of pedestrian safety. Our expert examined the flooring, the maintenance procedures, and the general safety procedures in effect at the time of the fall. He used an English XL Variable Incidence Tribometer (VIT) to measure the slipperiness of the floor in both dry and wet conditions. Here are his results:

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We could write several pages on the interpretation of his results, but in a nutshell, here is the summary: when the floor was dry, it was safe. When it was wet, it was very slippery, and therefore dangerous. Additionally, he testified that a nearby competing laundromat had outdoor carpeting installed throughout their store, which was not slippery, even when wet. That store also had an attendant on duty, to assist customers and generally keep an eye on things.

The laundromat where the fall occurred did not keep records of sweeping or floor maintenance. They had no water-absorbing, rubber-backed, fabric floor runners, nor special non-slip flooring for rainy weather. They had no “slippery when wet” warnings placed on the day of the incident. They did not have attendants on duty that day, and in fact, no employees were on the premises that morning.

The defense’s expert testified that the defendants met safety standards by applying nonskid wax on the floor once a month.

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As an aside, there is quite a bit of disagreement among safety experts over the efficacy of “non-slip” floor waxes. Application technique, length of time since the last application, wear patterns, temperature, contaminants, complete stripping of old layers and reapplication versus just adding another layer, and machine polishing and buffing are all factors that influence slipperiness. There are some experts who maintain that even with the best of circumstances, floor waxes are not sufficient to make a slippery floor safe, especially when wet.

The defense expert also tested the slipperiness of the floor using a horizontal pull slip meter that is called the Technical Products Model 80 and concluded that it was a safe flooring surface. Further, the defense contended that mats, runners, maintenance schedules, warning signs, on-site personnel, and/or attendants were all irrelevant to the standard of care required for a retail laundromat.

The trial lasted five days, and the jury deliberated for six hours. The jury found for the injured woman and awarded to her past medical costs, future medical costs, loss of earnings, past pain and suffering, and future pain and suffering costs.

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