Bodden, Mary et al v. Target Corporation et al
ORDER denying 24 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker on 4/10/2015. (kwf)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
OPINION AND ORDER
WISCONSIN PHYSICIANS SERVICE INSURANCE
TARGET CORPORATION and
ACE AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY,
Plaintiff Mary Bodden alleges that she slipped and fell on wet tile when entering the store
owned by defendant Target Corporation in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Bodden is suing Target and
its insurer, defendant Ace American Insurance Company, for common law negligence and a
violation of Wisconsin’s safe place statute, Wis. Stat. § 101.11. Jurisdiction is present under the
diversity statute. 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
Defendants have moved for summary judgment. Dkt. 24. I am denying this motion
because there is a genuine factual dispute regarding the condition of the floor and what Target
knew or should have known at the time that Bodden fell.
From the parties’ proposed findings of fact and responses thereto, I find the following
facts to be material and undisputed:
Plaintiff Mary Bodden is an adult resident of Wisconsin. Defendant Target Corporation
is a foreign corporation incorporated in Minnesota with its principal place of business located
in Minneapolis. Defendant Ace American Insurance Company, Target’s insurer, is a foreign
corporation incorporated in Pennsylvania with a principal place of business in Philadelphia.
On January 31, 2013, Bodden went to the Target store in Marshfield, Wisconsin. It had
snowed the night before; although the Target lot had been plowed, it still was snow covered.
Before entering the store, Bodden stomped snow off her boots on the concrete outside. Having
lived in Wisconsin for 62 years, Bodden recognized that her shoes were going to be wet even
though she had stomped them off. Bodden entered the store at approximately 11:24 a.m. The
carpeted area just inside the store entrance was squishy with snow residue.1 As Bodden stepped
with her right foot from the carpeting onto the tile floor, her right foot slipped. Bodden fell onto
her right arm and broke it.
At the time of Bodden’s accident, David Nedd was the store’s Assets Protection Team
Leader, Tiffany Hartman was the team leader on duty and Kristine Gatlin was the guest services
attendant responsible for generally monitoring the front end of the store. Although no employee
witnessed Bodden fall, Hartman, Gatlin, Nedd and Mary Langfeldt (another Target employee)
responded to the scene of the accident. Gatlin observed that there were “puddles” of “visible
water” around Bodden as she sat on the floor after her fall. Gatlin, Langfeldt and Hartman
completed contemporaneous incident reports in which they stated that the floor was wet where
Both parties rely on Bodden’s deposition testimony to support their position on whether the tile
floor was wet at the time she fell. Bodden’s testimony on this point is confusing and seemingly
contradictory. Dkt. 36 at 26, 31-32. Bodden initially testified that she did not remember whether she
saw moisture or condensation on the tile floor before walking on it, id. at 26, but then she testified that
she saw that the floors were wet after she entered the store and got to the tile floor, id. at 31. However,
Bodden also agreed that she did not see any water or moisture on the floor “prior to falling.” Id. at 32.
Given this testimony, the court cannot determine whether or when Bodden observed that the tile floor was
Target’s Marshfield store had video surveillance of the front entrance. Nedd downloaded
the footage of Bodden's entering the store. There is an excerpt from the video starting at 11:16
and ending at 11:24 that shows the events immediately preceding Bodden’s fall. At 11:17 a.m.,
seven minutes before Bodden fell, Gatlin mopped the floor in the entryway near where Bodden
fell. Gatlin also had placed orange “wet floor” cones in the entryway, but Bodden did not see
any cones upon entering the store.2 Between the time Gatlin finished mopping and the time
Bodden entered the store, eight other customers had entered the store and walked through the
area where Bodden fell.
Target employees testified that the entrance to the store is a high-traffic area that is
particularly susceptible to wetness. Target has “snow event” and safety protocols that state that
safety cones and extra mats should be used in the entrance areas of its stores, exterior surfaces
should be salted and sanded, carpeting should be mostly dry and free of puddles and more than
half of the entrance matting in the store should be free of sand or salt residue. Target staff did
not use extra mats on the day of Bodden's accident. Target's internal policies and procedure call
for all employees to be on alert for slippery conditions. Employees are trained to clean up after
a spill or detection of another hazardous material on the floor and to place safety cones. Target
relies on employees to monitor floor conditions and receive notice from guests rather than
utilizing standard, scheduled checks. No Target employee was assigned to the specific area
where Bodden slipped and fell.
Because the testimony and photographs submitted by the parties do not establish the exact
location of the cones at the time of Bodden’s fall, that fact remains in dispute.
I. Legal Standard
Bodden has brought claims for negligence under state common law and Wisconsin’s safe
place statute, Wis. Stat. § 101.11. To establish common law negligence, plaintiff must show:
“(1) A duty of care on the part of the defendant; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal
connection between the conduct and the injury; and (4) an actual loss or damage as a result of
the injury.” Rockweit v. Senecal, 197 Wis. 2d 409, 418, 541 N.W.2d 742 (1995). In Wisconsin,
everyone owes a duty “to the world at large,” Hornback v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee, 313 Wis. 2d
294, 309, 752 N.W.2d 862 (quoting Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 162 N.E. 99, 103 (1928)
(Andrews, J., dissenting), whenever it is “foreseeable that his act or omission to act may cause
harm to someone.” Rolph v. EBI Companies, 159 Wis. 2d 518, 532, 464 N.W.2d 667, 672
(1991) (citation omitted). The defendant breaches this duty of ordinary care if it, “without
intending to do harm, does something (or fails to do something) that a reasonable person would
recognize as creating an unreasonable risk of injury or damage to a person or property.” Alvarado
v. Sersch, 2003 WI 55, ¶ 14, 262 Wis. 2d 74, 662 N.W.2d 350 (quoting Wis JI-Civil 1005,
following Osborne v. Montgomery, 203 Wis. 223, 242-43, 234 N.W. 372 (1971)). Negligence is
typically an issue for the fact-finder, and “summary judgment is uncommon in negligence actions
because the court must be able to say that no properly instructed, reasonable jury could find,
based on the facts presented, that [the defendant] failed to exercise ordinary care.” Lambrecht
v. Estate of Kaczmarczyk, 2001 WI 25, ¶ 2, 241 Wis. 2d 804, 807-08, 623 N.W.2d 751, 755-56.
The safe place statute differs in that it addresses unsafe conditions and creates a higher
standard of care than that imposed by common-law negligence. Megal v. Green Bay Area Visitor
& Convention Bureau, Inc., 2004 WI 98, ¶ 9, 274 Wis. 2d 162, 170, 682 N.W.2d 857, 861
(internal citations omitted).3 The statute provides that “[e]very employer and every owner of
a place of employment or a public building . . . shall so construct, repair or maintain such place
of employment or public building as to render the same safe” and “shall furnish and use safety
devices and safeguards, and shall adopt and use methods and processes reasonably adequate to
render such employment and places of employment safe, and shall do every other thing
reasonably necessary to protect the life, health, safety, and welfare of such employees and
frequenters.” Wis. Stat. § 101.11(1).
Even under this heightened standard of care, employers and owners are not insurers for
employees and frequenters of their premises and they are not required to do everything possible
to make their premises more safe. Megal, 2004 WI 98, ¶ 9. “Rather, the duty set forth by the
statute requires an employer or owner to make the place ‘as safe as the nature of the premises
reasonably permits.’” Id. at ¶ 10 (quoting Strack v. Great Atlantic & Pac. Tea Co., 35 Wis. 2d 51,
54, 150 N.W.2d 361, 362 (1967)). “The “nature of the business” and the “manner in which
[business] is conducted” are factors to be considered in assessing whether the premises are safe,
within the meaning of § 101.11(1).” Id. To be liable, an employer or owner must have actual
or constructive notice that the unsafe condition exists. Id. at ¶ 11. A defendant has constructive
notice if the “defect or condition has existed a long enough time for a reasonably vigilant owner
to discover and repair it,” considering “the surrounding facts and circumstances, including the
nature of the business and the nature of the defect.” Id. at ¶ 12-13 (citations and quotation
Even if a plaintiff cannot prove that the owner violated § 101.11(1)’s higher standard of care,
it does not necessarily follow that the plaintiff cannot prove that the owner violated the lower standard
of common-law negligence. M egal, 2004 W I 98, ¶ 23.
II. Target’s Knowledge of Hazard
Defendants contend that Bodden has no evidence of either a foreseeable risk of harm or
an unsafe condition that existed at the time she fell, citing to Bodden’s deposition testimony.
But as noted above, Bodden was not clear about whether the tile floor was wet when she stepped
Q: – did you see any moisture or condensation on the tile floor before you
walked onto it?
A: I don’t remember.
Id. at 26.
Q: Do you know what caused you to slip?
A: Wet flooring, I would say.
Q: Are you assuming that just because something caused you to slip?
A: Well, as I came in I saw the floors were wet, but you know –
Q: As you came in, did you see the tile floor wet?
A: Not until I got to the tile floor.
Q: But before you got to the tile floor, could you see that it was wet?
A: I was not looking at the tile floor.
Q: Okay. And so it is fair to state that prior to your falling, you didn’t see any
water or moisture on the tile floor; correct?
Q: So it is also fair to state that you don’t know what, in fact, it was that caused you to
A: I don’t know.
Id. at 31-32.
Confusing though this may be, one reasonable conclusion a jury reach is that Bodden saw
water on the tile floor when she stepped onto the floor but not before. Bodden also has adduced
evidence that a number of Target employees saw her sitting in water on the tile floor after she
fell (although none could say whether the water had been there before Bodden slipped and fell).
Accordingly, there is at least some evidence from which the jury could conclude that the floor
was wet when Bodden fell, and it will be up to the jury to decide what part of Bodden’s
testimony, if any, to believe.
Similarly, defendants argue that Bodden has no evidence that Target had actual or
constructive notice of water on the floor because an employee had dry-mopped the area just
seven minutes before Bodden fell and there is no evidence of how long the floor was wet–if it
even was wet–after the mopping. See Kaufman v. State St. Ltd. Partnership, 187 Wis. 2d 54, 59,
522 N.W.2d 249, 252 (Ct. App. 1994) (“Ordinarily, constructive notice cannot be found when
there is no evidence as to the length of time the condition existed.”). Defendants contend that
this case is similar to Merriman v. Cash-Way, Inc., 35 Wis. 2d 112, 117, 150 N.W.2d 472, 475
(1967), in which the plaintiff claimed that a defectively constructed downspout allowed
emerging water to run under a fence onto a parking lot where it froze into a patch of ice on
which plaintiff slipped. The court in Merriman found that there was “a complete lack of
proof to establish this hypothesis” because the store manager testified that the downspout
directed water away from the parking lot and there was no evidence of melting of snow or
ice in previous days. Id.
As Bodden points out, the facts in this case are distinguishable from Merriman. It is
undisputed that on the day of the accident, the parking lot and outside entrance to the
Target store were snow-covered as a result of snowfall the night before. “[G]iven the weather
that often occurs in February in Wisconsin, standing alone, a temporary natural accumulation
of snow is insufficient to provide notice of an unsafe condition under the safe-place statute.”
Kochanski v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 2014 WI 72, ¶ 37, 356 Wis. 2d 1, 27-28, 850 N.W.2d
160, 172. However, in this case, seven minutes before Bodden fell, a Target employee had
mopped the tile floor and placed orange cones warning customers of a potential hazard,
pursuant to store safety protocols. See Hannenbaum v. Direnzo & Bomier, 162 Wis. 2d 488, 500,
469 N.W.2d 900, 905 (Ct. App. 1991) (finding actual notice of hazard where defendants’ agent
had salted front steps to building and defendants concerned enough to ask arriving clients about
continuing weather conditions, even though they took no further precaution). It is also
undisputed that the carpeting immediately inside the entrance to the store was “squishy” with
snow residue. Although Target may not have known that a puddle or moisture existed at the
exact time Bodden fell, employees admitted that the entrance to the store was known to be a
high-traffic area particularly susceptible to wetness. In fact, surveillance video showed that eight
other customers had entered the store and walked through the area where Bodden fell between
the time Gatlin finished mopping and the time Bodden entered the store. From these facts, a
reasonable jury could conclude that Target had notice that a hazard existed at the time of
In an unexplained statement at the end of their supporting brief, defendants contend that
Bodden does not have the expert testimony required to claim that “Target’s operations may have
caused the floor to be wet.” Dkt. 25 at 9-10. Because defendants did not develop any argument
with respect to Target’s “operations” or the overall reasonableness of the store’s actions, I have
not considered whether Bodden has met any other element of her claims that may be related to
these issues. Puffer v. Allstate Insurance Co., 675 F.3d 709, 711 (7th Cir. 2012) (undeveloped
arguments are waived).
Although defendants discuss Target’s duty of care and the
reasonableness of its response in their reply brief, arguments first raised in a reply brief are
waived. United States v. Turner, 203 F.3d 1010, 1019 (7th Cir. 2000); Sunbeam Prods., Inc. v.
Homedics, Inc., 587 F. Supp. 2d 1055, 1058 (W.D. Wis. 2008). Accordingly, defendants’ motion
for summary judgment will be denied.
IT IS ORDERED that the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Target
Corporation and Ace American Insurance Company, dkt. 24, is DENIED.
Entered this 10th day of April, 2015.
BY THE COURT:
STEPHEN L. CROCKER
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?