Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Instruction Based on Store's Safety Manual Improper

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Instruction Based on Store's Safety Manual Improper

Article excerpt

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed a $600,000 jury award because of an improper jury instruction incorporating a Wal-Mart employee manual that set a standard of care higher than the ordinary care required in the negligence suit at issue. Reversing the jury verdict, the court determined in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Wright, 774 N.E.2d 891 (Ind. 2002), that the instruction set a subjective, rather than objective, standard of care in the slip-and-fall case.

Ruth Ann Wright sued Wal-Mart, alleging she was injured when she fell on water in the lawn and garden corral outside the Wal-Mart store in Carmel, Indiana. Portions of the store's employee manual, detailing procedures on handling spills and other floor hazards, were admitted into evidence at the jury trial. Wal-Mart hotly contested the applicability of the manual to the open-air lawn and garden corral. A Wal-Mart employee, who was just arriving for work and witnessed Wright fall, testified that she routinely swept or squeegeed water from the corral floor as needed.

One jury instruction told jurors they could consider the violation of any of the store's own rules, along with all the other evidence, in determining whether Wal-Mart was negligent. The instruction also provided that the violation of these rules was a "proper item of evidence tending to show the degree of care recognized by Wal-Mart as ordinary care under the conditions specified in its rules, policies, practices and procedures. …

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