Court Discusses Duty Owed to Business Invitee Under Alabama Law
Linda Unger, as personal representative of the Estate of Marshall B. Unger, deceased v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., Naomi Phillips, and Billy Odom
On May 20, 2014, Unger, deceased, suffered two fractured vertebrae in this thoracic spine when he lost his balance and fell after separating two shopping carts. In January 2015, Unger sued Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., the store manager, and fictitiously named defendants alleging that, on the day he was injured the store greeter had been negligent and/or wanton in failing to "stage a clean shopping cart for easy access in violation of Wal-Mart's policies"; that "the Wal-Mart employee collecting carts from outside the store overloaded the machine used for collecting carts creating an unsafe condition that consumers would have no knowledge of"; and that "Wal-Mart had been negligent and/or wanton in failing to train and/or supervise its employees." Unger died in 2016 while the action was pending, and the trial court appointed Linda Unger as the personal representative of the estate of Unger to pursue the claims against Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart moved for a summary judgment and the trial court entered a summary judgment in their favor.
On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court noted that the duty owed to an injured person in a premises-liability case depends on the legal status of the person when the injury occurred. Here, Unger was a business invitee of Wal-Mart and thus, the Court discussed the duty owed to a business invitee under Alabama law. Specifically, the Court stated that “the owner of premises owes a duty to business invitees to use reasonable care and diligence to keep the premises in a safe condition, or, if the premises are in a dangerous condition, to give sufficient warning so that, by the use of ordinary care, the danger can be avoided.”
The Alabama Supreme Court found that the plaintiff failed to establish by substantial evidence that Wal-Mart had a legal duty to provide Unger, a business invitee, with a staged shopping cart when he entered the store. The primary responsibility of a store greeter is customer service and, while staging shopping carts is part of the job, greeters have various other responsibilities and are not able to provide every entering customer a cart. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the summary judgment in favor of the Wal-Mart defendants.