Gomes v. U.S.
In a slip-and-fall case, summary judgment can be granted when there is not enough evidence, direct or circumstantial, about how long a dangerous circumstance existed. On Oct. 21, 2010, Arthur Gomes allegedly entered the Norwich Post Office, to check his personal post office box. It was raining, and Gomes was not carrying an umbrella. Allegedly, Gomes slipped on wet leaves when he exited and fell. There were no witnesses. Gomes drove himself to the hospital and did not immediately inform the post office. Gomes sued the government pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 United States Code §1346(b), and argued that the post office employees knew, or should have known, that there were wet leaves on the steps and remedied the condition. The government denied that Gomes was injured because wet leaves had accumulated on the steps at the post office. Even if he was injured at the post office, the government argued that Gomes did not prove actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition. The District Court found that the mode-of-operation theory, which permits a business invitee to recover, without establishing actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, did not apply, absent allegations that the slip-and-fall arose out of hazards inherent to a self-service method of operation. Gomes admitted that he failed to observe the wet leaves until he fell, and the court found that he failed to establish the post office employees possessed actual notice of the wet leaves. Gomes also failed to establish the leaves were on the steps a sufficient period of time that post office employees, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have discovered them and remedied the condition. "Evidence which goes no farther than to show the presence of a slippery foreign substance does not warrant an inference of constructive notice to the defendant," pursuant to the Connecticut Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Kelly v. Stop and Shop Inc. The court could not infer that the wet leaves were present longer than a few minutes, and it granted the government's motion for summary judgment.