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Newell v. Home Depot U.S.A. Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

August 28, 2014

MICHAEL PATRICK NEWELL and LOU NEWELL, individually and as a marital community, Plaintiffs,
HOME DEPOT U.S.A. INC., a foreign corporation, Defendant.


EDWARD F. SHEA, Senior District Judge.

While inspecting his employer's paint products at the Richland Home Depot, Plaintiff Michael Newell injured his shoulder when a bucket of paint fell on him. Defendant Home Depot asks the Court to enter summary judgment in its favor on the Newells' premises-liability negligence lawsuit. ECF No. 21. The Newells oppose the motion. After reviewing the record and relevant legal authority, the Court is fully informed and denies Home Depot's summary-judgment motion.

A. Factual Statement[1]

Mr. Newell worked as a paint vendor for a company that sold products at the Home Depot in Richland, amongst other stores. As a paint vendor, Mr. Newell ensured that his employer's products were appropriately displayed at the Home Depot by pulling paint containers to the front of the paint bays, facing the paint containers to the aisle, and checking prices. To accomplish these tasks, Mr. Newell crawled into paint bays on a daily basis.

Mr. Newell did not restock the paint product; rather Home Depot employees restocked products on the shelves almost daily. Mr. Newell also did not have a supervisor at the Home Depot and rarely called upon Home Depot employees for assistance. Yet, Mr. Newell did speak with the store manager, Sal, nearly every time he went to the store.

If paint[2] spilled, it was the responsibility of the Home Depot paint department associates to clean the paint bays. And the Home Depot had a spill procedure for handling hazardous materials like paint. Other store policies and procedures required daily inspections of the store departments before each department opened.

On February 1, 2014, Mr. Newell arrived at the Home Depot and began his usual task of organizing his employer's products in the paint department. Mr. Newell climbed into a paint bay and moved paint buckets so that the labels faced forward. He observed paint buckets near the back of the bay with the labels facing the other direction. Crouched near the back of the paint bay amongst five-gallon buckets, he grabbed the edge of a lid to a five-gallon bucket so that he could turn the bucket to see the label. Newell Dep., ECF No. 22, Ex. 2 at 42. Unbeknownst to Mr. Newell, there was dried paint underneath the five-gallon bucket which caused it to be stuck to the cement floor. Id. When Mr. Newell grabbed the side of the bucket's lid, the bucket broke loose from the dried paint; the force of the bucket coming loose from the dried paint, caused the five-gallon bucket on top of that loosened bucket to fall down on Mr. Newell's shoulder, injuring him. Id. at 42-43. In pain and now laying in a fetal position on the cement floor, Mr. Newell called for Home Depot employee Whitney Hanson to assist him. Id. at 43. In a few minutes, Ms. Hanson came to his assistance and moved buckets out of the way so that Mr. Newell could crawl out of the bay. Id. at 43.

Ms. Hanson observed that there was dried paint under the entire diameter of the five-gallon bucket that Mr. Newell had attempted to move: there was no paint elsewhere on the ground. It did not look like anyone had tried to previously clean the paint on the concrete floor under the bucket. Ms. Hanson then tried to scrape the dried paint.

Dried spills are not something the Home Depot paint department normally has to address. However, Mr. Newell testified at his deposition that he has seen, and was aware, that before February 1, 2010, there was dried paint "all over the place in the paint bay." Yet, he had never encountered a bucket of product stuck to the floor as a result of dried paint. ECF No. 22, Ex. 2 at 32:9-11.

After the incident, Mr. Newell spoke to Sal, the store manager, about the incident and his injury, however, Mr. Newell got the impression that Sal was busy and not interested in hearing about what happened. ECF No. 34, Ex. 2 at 48:24-25; 49:1-6; 62:7-10.

A. Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party opposing summary judgment must point to specific facts establishing a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). If the non-moving party fails to make such a showing for any of the elements essential to its case for which it bears the burden of proof, the trial court should grant the summary-judgment motion. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

B. Analysis

To prevail on the common-law, premises-liability negligence action, the Newells must establish that Home Depot owed a duty to Mr. Newell, Home Depot breached that duty, and Mr. Newell suffered injuries which were proximately caused by the breach of the duty. See Hertog, ex rel. S.A.H. v. City of Seattle, 138 Wn.2d 265, 275 (1999). Under the common law, the duty owed by a landowner to an entrant depends on whether the entrant was a trespasser, licensee, or invitee. Afoa v. Port of Seattle, 176 Wn.2d 460, 467 (2013). The parties agree that, as an employee of a business selling product at Home Depot, Mr. Newell was an invitee to Home Depot's premises. The issue before the Court now at summary judgment is what duty, if any, Home Depot owed to Mr. Newell as an invitee under these business circumstances, and whether there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether that duty was breached by Home Depot. The initial determination of what duty Home Depot ...

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