Monday, December 8, 2014

Slip and fell on chicken grease (from rotisserie chicken) spilled on floor at grocery store. AMOUNT $885,000

Attorneys J. Douglas Peters and Ann Mandt settled this slip & fall case on behalf of Jane Doe who suffered a closed head and cervical disc injury as a result of a slip & fall on chicken grease in an area grocery store. The key to achieving the settlement reached in this slip & fall case was finding a product liability component that was used to overcome the horrendous slip & fall laws existing in Michigan. The Plaintiff, a 57 yr old white female, walked toward the checkout line at a local chain grocery store. An earlier customer had fumbled with a rotisserie chicken package, apparently spilling chicken grease on the floor. 72 seconds later, Plaintiff walked by, slipped and fell, hitting her head on the cement floor. A security video tape proved to be a double-edged sword. The video tape established that an earlier customer had fumbled with a packaged rotisserie chicken prior to setting it on the checkout counter. Nothing in the video showed that that customer was aware of the spill (he didn't look down & he didn't wipe his hands on his pants or a cloth - this customer was 84 years old and was not sued). The timer on the video tape showed that only 72 seconds elapsed between the time of the probable spill and plaintiff's slip & fall. This video evidence was helpful. Unhelpful was the video evidence that Plaintiff did not suffer a period of obvious unconsciousness. Indeed, the ambulance service medical record quoted the victim's mother as stating that the victim "did not lose consciousness". Plaintiff's Complaint asserted claims against the grocery store and the manufacturer of the plastic packaging used to contain the hot rotisserie chicken. Requests for Production of Documents established that the grocery store's chain, which was national in scope, had recorded approximately 30 chicken grease spills across the country during the prior year. How those spills occurred was not recorded on the accident report forms. A survey of the marketplace established that most rotisserie chicken sellers used one of four packaging systems. The Defendant's was a simple black tray and plastic dome. Other markets placed the black tray and plastic dome in a plastic bag sealed with a twisty. Another packaging option involved wrapping the black tray and plastic dome with a cardboard sleeve with a cardboard handle to ensure that the rotisserie chicken was kept upright and to prevent the top from popping off. The fourth option, the one employed by the Kroger chain, used a heat resistant zip-lock bag made by the Robi Corporation which was probably the safest packaging option. As a result of the slip & fall, Plaintiff underwent cervical surgery for a protruding disc which was 100% successful. Plaintiff was unable to return to work, however, due to the significant psychological and physiological impacts of her closed-head injury. Plaintiff's psychiatrist and neuropsychologist deemed Plaintiff to be permanently disabled. Defendants' psychiatrist and neuropsychologist from the University of Michigan denied that Plaintiff had sustained a closed head injury, opined that she was malingering, and both agreed she was not disabled from gainful employment. Prior to the slip & fall, the 57 year-old white female, trained as a nurse, was making approximately $85,000 per year with bonuses that varied from year-to-year. Because of Michigan's unfavorable slip & fall laws, Plaintiff's counsel focused on the product liability component of the case. The manufacturer of the product, in response to discovery requests, reported no prior incidents in the history of their product. The product manufacturer claimed that in all probability the grocery store employee in the Deli section had not properly affixed the dome to the tray, or, that the mishandling of the product by the customer who purchased the rotisserie chicken was the most probable reason the top dome and tray separated. It was apparent from the video tape that the checkout clerk at the grocery store fumbled with the top while trying to re-affix it to the tray. Plaintiff claimed that this "fumbling" by the checkout clerk should have put the grocery store on notice that the integrity of the rotisserie chicken packaging had been breached. Several additional factors complicated the Plaintiff's case. The Plaintiff herself was an attractive woman who had a bit of a short fuse which a jury might not appreciate. Defendants made much of the Plaintiff's wealthy background and the fact that she had sustained a prior slip & fall on ice while she worked as an employee at the University of Michigan. Family issues and dynamics between the Plaintiff, her husband, and her mother, who also lived with them, complicated the case. The settlement was reached through facilitation and included a non-disclosure agreement. J. Douglas Peters, Ann K. Mandt. E mail address:

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