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Ridgeway v. Acme Markets, Inc.

Supreme Court of Delaware

September 5, 2018

ANDREA RIDGEWAY, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,
v.
ACME MARKETS, INC., FOX RUN SHOPPING CENTER, LLC, and CIPOLLONI BROTHERS, LLC, Defendants Below,

          Submitted: August 22, 2018

          Court Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware C.A. No. N16C-01-183

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.

          ORDER

          Collins J. Seitz, Jr., Justice

         This 5th day of September, 2018, having considered the briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) Three days after a winter storm, Andrea Ridgeway slipped and fell on ice in a parking lot outside the entrance to an Acme Market grocery store. Fox Run Super Markets, LLC managed the property, and contracted with Cipolloni Brothers, LLC to remove ice and snow from the parking lot. Ridgeway sued Acme, Fox Run, and Cipolloni for negligence. After discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Ridgeway failed to produce expert testimony to establish the standard of care and its breach in a negligence action for ice and snow removal in a commercial parking lot. According to the defendants, whether the contractor deviated from industry standards was not within the common knowledge of jurors to assess, and thus expert testimony was required to establish the standard of care and whether it was breached. The Superior Court agreed, and granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment.

         (2) On appeal, Ridgeway argues that an expert witness was not required to establish the standard of care and whether it was breached in a slip and fall case in a commercial parking lot. She claims it is within a juror's common knowledge to assess the standard of care for ice and snow removal, and whether the defendants breached the duty owed to Ridgeway.

         (3) To resolve this appeal we do not decide whether expert testimony is necessary to establish the standard of care and its breach in a commercial parking lot slip and fall case. Instead, we find that, after the defendants presented evidence at the summary judgment stage of the steps the contractor took to treat the parking lot over multiple days, Ridgeway then had to raise a disputed issue of material fact regarding the defendants' negligence. She failed to do so. Thus, we affirm the Superior Court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants.

         (4) According to the allegations of the complaint and the record created during discovery, Acme Markets leased commercial space in the Fox Run shopping center in Bear, Delaware. Fox Run Shopping Center, LLC (hereinafter "Fox Run") managed the parking lot. Fox Run contracted with Cipolloni Brothers to handle ice and snow removal. On February 3, 2014, a winter storm dropped an inch of snow and icy rain onto the parking lot. Cipolloni Brothers plowed, salted, and shoveled multiple times in the three days following the storm.[1] On February 6, 2014, Andrea Ridgeway parked near handicap-accessible parking spots in the Acme lot. She saw ice between the handicap spots and the entrance and a mound of snow across from the handicap spots.[2] Shortly after stepping out of her car, Ridgeway fell within one of the handicap spots, and sustained a concussion and damage to her cervical spine and neck, which required the insertion of an artificial disk and physical therapy. Ridgeway was unable to describe how much ice she fell on or how much of the parking lot was covered in salt.[3]

         (5) Ridgeway filed a complaint against Acme Markets, Fox Run, and Cipollini Brothers alleging negligence in removing the snow and ice from the parking lot. Ridgeway claimed that all three parties were negligent by failing to prevent the harm or warning of the hazardous condition. After the close of discovery, Ridgeway had not retained an expert to provide testimony or an affidavit on the standard of care or whether it had been breached. The defendants moved for summary judgment. In her responses to the motions for summary judgment, Ridgeway failed to offer any evidence of negligent acts by the defendants, or how any negligence caused her harm, relying instead on the simple fact that she slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot and did not see salt within an undefined area.[4] The Superior Court granted the defendants' motions, finding expert testimony was required because the standard of care for ice and snow removal from a commercial parking lot was not a subject within the common knowledge of a juror.[5] Because Ridgeway "adduced no evidence of any negligence" by the defendants, "her failure to retain an expert as to the appropriate standard of care" was fatal to her claim.[6]

         (6) This Court reviews the grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo to determine whether the undisputed facts entitled the movant to judgment as a matter of law, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[7]A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists.[8] If the movant makes such a showing, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to submit sufficient evidence to show that a genuine factual issue, material to the outcome of the case, precludes summary judgment.[9]

         (7) Ridgeway argues that the Superior Court erred in granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment because she was not required to produce expert testimony to establish the standard of care for ice and snow removal from a commercial parking lot. She claims that jurors do not need expert testimony to make a "common sense determination" about the danger created by a melting pile of snow in a supermarket parking lot.

         (8) Defendants respond that Ridgeway is confusing the juror's common sense ability to appreciate the dangers of ice and snow in a parking lot with the industry standard of care for making a parking lot safe after a winter storm. They state in their briefs, "[t]he issue is not whether a jury can determine whether snow and ice is dangerous, but whether the actions taken by the Landlord in hiring a snow and ice remediation company that salted the parking lot five times over the course of three days deviated from an industry standard such that it did not exercise due care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition."[10] According to the defendants, evaluating the industry standard is not within the common knowledge of jurors. Because Ridgeway did not retain an expert to testify about the industry standard and whether it was breached, summary judgment was properly entered.

         (9) To succeed on a negligence claim, Ridgeway must establish that: (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the plaintiff was injured; and (4) the defendant's breach caused the plaintiff's injury.[11] As the landowner, Fox Run must take "reasonable steps" to make the premises safe for business invitees.[12] "This includes keeping the premises reasonably safe from natural accumulations of ice and snow."[13] When a dangerous condition exists on the land, which a landowner could discover upon reasonable inspection, the owner has a duty to ...


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