You Could Be Liable if Your Employee Improperly Cleans Up After a Spill in a Grocery Store

The Fourth Circuit reversed a trial judge’s decision to let a wine distributor off the hook for liability in a slip fall.  The opinion can be found here.  It is notable because it’s a fact patter that is fairly common and provides some discussion topics for employees who may find themselves in a similar situation, especially if you self-distribute.

The sales representative for the wine distributor was stocking shelves at a supermarket when he accidentally dropped a bottle of wine, spilling its contents in an aisle of the grocery store. He did several things to deal with the spill.

  • First, he blocked off one side of the spill area.
  • Then he retrieved a broom and dustpan, picked up the larger pieces of glass by hand, and swept the area with the broom.
  • Subsequently, he mopped the area and put up a yellow warning cone. The cone was approximately two-and-a-half feet tall and two feet wide.

Nearly six minutes after he finished, a lady entered the wine aisle. After browsing the wine selection at the store, she slipped and fell in the spill area and was injured. She filed a lawsuit against the grocery store and the distributor.  The court held a trial, but before a ruling, the judge granted the distributor’s motion finding that the sales rep did everything he could to clean up the spill and couldn’t have done anything more.

The plaintiff appealed the decision arguing that there was enough evidence presented at trial from which the jury could have found that the wine distributor, through its employee, breached its duty in the following ways:

  • Mopping an area much larger than the spill area,
  • Failing to dry the area after mopping,
  • Using a slippery hand-sanitizer-like substance to clean the floor,
  • Using only a cone to mark the area, and
  • Placing the warning cone in an unreasonable place.

The appellate court agreed and sent the case back for a new trial.  While the ruling seems like a fairly pointless slip and fall decision, it does make it clear that there are a few protocols that should probably be written up in an employee manual that include not just what the employee did here, but also the things the plaintiff claims he should have done to better clean up the spill (hand sanitizer aside).

Ashley Brandt

Hi there! I’m happy you’re here. My name is Ashley Brandt and I’m an attorney in Chicago representing clients in the Food and Beverage, Advertising, Media, and Real Estate industries. A while back I kept getting calls and questions from industry professionals and attorneys looking for advice and information on a fun and unique area of law that I’m lucky enough to practice in. These calls represented a serious lack of, and need for, some answers, news, and information on the legal aspects of marketing and media. I've got this deep seeded belief that information should be readily available and that the greatest benefit from the information age is open access to knowledge... so ... this blog seemed like the best way to accomplish that. I enjoy being an attorney and it’s given me some amazing opportunities, wonderful experiences, and an appreciation and love for this work. I live in Chicago and work at an exceptional law firm, Goldstein & McClintock, with some truly brilliant people. Feel free to contact me at any time with any issues, comments, concerns… frankly, after reading this far, I hope you take the time to at least let me know what you think about the blog and how I can make it a better resource.

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