Slip-and-fall lawsuits caused by pets

Slip-and-fall lawsuits caused by pets

Stepping in dog poop is embarrassing, though a simple rinse and a good laugh at oneself are sufficient remedies for the incident. However, slipping on it and hurting yourself is no laughing matter.

In fact, if you were on somebody else’s commercial property, slipped on animal pee or poop, and consequently suffered a painful sprain, bone fracture, or head injury, you have every right to sue the owner of the property, given that the latter:

  • Caused the surface to become slippery (i.e., the owner did not clean up after their pet);
  • Knew the floor was...icky (by virtue of having CCTV cameras or by alerts from passersby); or
  • Should have known of the unsafe surface because a caretaker (such as a janitor) would have found it and cleaned it up immediately.

To prevent accidents from befalling individuals in the first place, building codes require property owners to ensure that interior walking surfaces offer sufficient slip resistance, even when wet. Other areas found to have a higher risk of slippage, such as the aisles along self-service salad bars, must be maintained more frequently or have signs that give salad bar goers greater awareness of possible hazards, lest a life-giving lettuce leaf falls on the floor and leads to an ironic bone-breaking injury.

In short, property owners must exercise responsibility by attending to the condition of their property, for not doing so would be negligence.

Given this, it’s rare for the pursuit of legal action against property owners to actually end up in court. Firstly, negligence on the part of the defendant can be difficult to prove. For injured parties, medical bills are often the primary concern anyway, so they are advised to make financial settlements without involving the court to cover the bills more quickly.

On the other hand, defendants are advised that even if they have good odds of winning a case in court, going to trial is usually more costly because of legal fees. Plus, the damages awarded to the plaintiff will be greater if they do win their case.

Let’s take a look at some cases that did go to court and see what we can glean from them.

Katerina Porto v. Petco Animal Supplies Stores, Inc.

While shopping inside a Petco store in 2012, Ms. Porto slipped on dog urine, rolled her ankle, and suffered many injuries. She argued that Petco’s decision to allow pets inside their stores led to inherently foreseeable or regularly occurring hazards, and that the incident occurred within an identifiable zone of risk. Basically, Petco should’ve known and stepped up their cleaning game.

However, the courts ruled against her, ultimately stating in 2016 that, unlike with self-serve salad bars where patrons act differently within stores and therefore require store owners to enhance awareness of foreseeable hazards (i.e., when regular shoppers become self-serve salad bar goers, they tend to drop greens on the floor and create a slippery mess), pets are allowed across the entirety of the store, which is also normal in other pet stores.

In other words, merely stepping foot inside the pet store ought to make patrons more wary of potential pet messes. Secondly, the court maintained that the store’s pet-friendly policy does not give rise to an inherently foreseeable hazard. That is, a reasonable person couldn’t predict or expect that harm would be the ultimate result of letting pets in, especially since the store sees up to two messes per week, and Miss Porto’s accident was the only one that occurred in a span of six years.

Robert Holloway v. PetSmart

In January 2009, Holloway, who was 69 at the time, went to a PetSmart store to pick up dog food and bird seed. According to him, he slipped on dog poop that blended in with the visual pattern of the floor, fell on his already poor back, hit his head, and lost four teeth.

He had to have back surgery because of the incident.

Holloway sued PetSmart for $1 million because the company and its staff "negligently allowed animals to enter the premises and deposit feces in such a manner as to create a dangerous and hazardous condition."

Unlike in the Porto v. Petco case, PetSmart admitted that accidents are an everyday occurrence, despite customers being encouraged to clean up after their pets and employees being trained to keep stores mess-free. Regarding Holloway’s incident in particular, PetSmart said that an employee was actually about to clean up the poop. However, the company eventually settled out of court, perhaps because they lacked sufficient evidence to prove this claim.

For slip-and-fall cases due to pet messes, turn to Buckingham, LaGrandeur & Williams. We’ll give you the counsel you need to help you decide on whether to have your day in court or settle it outside instead.