United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
Betty S. Lucas, Plaintiff,
Sysco Columbia LLC, Defendant.
JOSEPH F. ANDERSON, Jr., District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on Sysco Columbia, LLC's ("Sysco") Motion for Summary Judgment. Both parties filed briefs on this motion and the Court heard oral arguments on October 2, 2014. The claims in this premises liability case arise from a slip and fall incident at Sysco's will call store. Betty S. Lucas ("Lucas") has asserted causes of action for negligence, premises liability (injury caused by dangerous condition), and premises liability (duty owed to invitee/business visitor) against Sysco.
On August 11, 2014, Sysco filed a motion for summary judgment on two grounds: (1) Lucas has failed to show that Sysco placed the substance on the floor or had actual or constructive knowledge of the substance on the floor; and (2) Lucas cannot prove the claimed damages to her foot are related to the alleged incident. (ECF Nos. 19 and 20). For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment.
II. BACKGROUND FACTS
On the rainy morning of October 28, 2010, Lucas traveled to Sysco's will call office in Columbia to pick up supplies for her son's restaurant. (Lucas Dep. p. 101). When she arrived at the facility sometime between 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. the weather conditions were very poor, with a significant amount of rain pouring and substantial wind. (Id. at 101, 104, 107). Lucas exited her vehicle and proceeded to the front door. At that time the wind was blowing at her back and pushing the rain on her. (Id. at 110-112). When she reached the entrance of the building, she opened the door, umbrella in hand, stepped inside onto the linoleum floor, and immediately slipped and fell upon entry. (Id. at 109). Lucas testified the floor where she fell was "solid water." (Id.).
As she fell, Lucas hit her head on the door frame and knocked her tooth out. (Id. at 110). Her right foot slipped out from underneath her, and as she hit the ground, all of her weight landed on that foot. (Id. at 114). She sustained injuries to both her mouth and her right foot. After her fall Lucas immediately left Sysco and headed to her son's restaurant. (Id. at 118). Lucas testified she left Sysco immediately because the will call employee who had been on duty (a person she believes is named "Iks, " "Ike, " or "Ixs") left when she fell, and there was no other Sysco employee at the will-call window to help her. (Id.).
Upon Lucas' arrival at the restaurant, several restaurant employees and Darby Matthews ("Matthews"), a Sysco sales representative, observed her injuries. (Id. at 125). Lucas testified that after explaining how she had been injured, Matthews told her he had been at the Sysco will office call earlier that morning and that the floor had been wet. (Id. at 211). Lucas also stated in her Affidavit that Matthews told her the floor of the will call office was wet every time it rained. (ECF No. 21-1).
The employees that Lucas spoke to after her accident were not in the will call at Sysco when she fell. (Lucas Dep. p. 133). Likewise, although Matthews was an employee of Sysco, he was not at the will call office when Lucas fell. (Id. at 133-34).
Sometime after the incident, Lucas sought payment from Sysco for her injuries. (Id. at 201). However, her claim was refused because no one at Sysco knew about her fall. (Id.). On August 27, 2013, nearly three years later, Lucas prepared a typed-written letter to Sysco's insurance carrier from Matthews and asked Matthews to sign it. (Id. at 207-08). The letter recounts the circumstances of her fall stating in pertinent part:
This letter is to verify that on Oct. 28, 2010, I was at D's Wings, Inc. taking an order, when Betty Lucas came in from will call office at Sysco and was limping. She said that she had fell in the will call office and hurt her right foot and had broken a tooth off of her bridge. She told me that Iks was working in the window and did not ask her if she was hurt or ask her to fill out an incident report. It was raining very bad that day and the wind was blowing a lot. I told her someone's name to contact to tell them about the fall. She called the lady that I told her to call and had to leave a message. No one ever called her back. I do know that she fell, there was nothing wrong with her foot before this accident. I work for Sysco and have been D's Wings sale person for a long time. I know Ms. Lucas and I know that she is a very honest person. (ECF No. 20-4).
Matthews initialed the letter and put a hand-written statement on the bottom of the letter: "I believe Oct. 28 is the correct day- I'm not certain- but she did tell me everything in this letter." (Id.). When Sysco still refused to compensate Lucas, she filed this action.
III. LEGAL STANDARD
Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A material fact is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 183 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute of material fact is "genuine" if ...