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Leibson v. The TJX Companies Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

July 11, 2018

LEE GROSSMAN LEIBSON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE TJX COMPANIES, INC., and STANLEY ACCESS TECHNOLOGIES, Defendants.

          ORDER

          VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ COVINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court upon consideration of Defendant The TJX Companies' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 32), filed on April 13, 2018. Plaintiff Lee Grossman Leibson responded on May 22, 2018. (Doc. # 39). The TJX Companies replied on June 11, 2018. (Doc. # 44). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted.

         I. Background

         Leibson is a ninety-one year old woman who fell while exiting a Marshalls store in St. Petersburg, Florida, on June 3, 2016. (Doc. # 2 at ¶¶ 7, 8, 10; Doc. # 21 at 2). Leibson was struck by an automatic sliding door that was manufactured and installed by Defendant Stanley Access Technologies at the Marshalls, which is owned by The TJX Companies. (Doc. # 2 at ¶¶ 9, 10). As a result, Leibson fell and sustained injuries. (Id. at ¶ 10). Leibson alleges the accident, which was captured by the store's security camera, occurred because The TJX Companies “negligently maintained the automatic slide door on the Premises.” (Id. at ¶ 14). She insists the “negligent condition was known to [The TJX Companies] or had existed for a sufficient length of time so that [The TJX Companies] should have known of its presence.” (Id. at ¶ 15).

         The TJX Companies disputes that it negligently maintained the automatic sliding door or that it should have known about any dangerous condition. Based on the store's sales and visitor numbers, the store's district manager, David Kelly, estimated that the automatic sliding door has opened and closed over three million times in the last five years without any accidents. (Kelly Aff. Doc. # 32-1 at ¶¶ 2, 6, 11). Mr. Kelly further averred that he is not aware of “any other incident involving the sliding glass doors that has ever occurred at the store.” (Id. at ¶ 13). The TJX Companies' expert, Dr. Dirk Smith, noted that fifty-nine other patrons exited through the automatic sliding doors at Marshalls the day of Leibson's accident. (Smith Dep. Doc. # 43 at 109:6-14, 110:6-22). None of those patrons had difficulty using the door and Dr. Smith testified that the door and its sensors appeared to be functioning correctly on the security video he reviewed. (Id. at 120:9-18; Doc. # 40 at 8).

         The TJX Companies did not have a regular maintenance agreement with Stanley Access Technologies. (Smith Dep. Doc. # 43 at 101:10-22). Instead, the TJX Companies would call in a technician from Stanley Access Technologies when problems arose with the door. A Stanley Access Technologies technician visited the store at least three times in 2016 to address various problems with various doors - before Leibson's accident on January 4, 2016, and May 11, 2016, and after Leibson's accident on July 27, 2016. (Doc. # 39 at 25-28). The maintenance check performed on July 27, 2016 - about six weeks after the accident - revealed that there was “a lot of dirt” on some unidentified sensors. (Id. at 28). Additionally, Marshalls employees were supposed to perform daily checks on the automatic door using a maintenance checklist provided by Stanley Access Technologies. (Kadiyala Dep. Doc. # 34 at 75:14-25, 78:8-79:1).

         It is unclear exactly why the automatic sliding door closed on Leibson. Leibson's engineering expert, Dr. Srinivas Kadiyala, testified that there was a malfunction in the door caused by either a failed sensor or control system within the overhead threshold sensor system. (Id. at 83:18-84:3, 135:8- 15). He agreed the sensor or control panel would have been functioning when first installed, but likely failed at some point afterwards. (Id. at 134:9-14). Although he was uncertain whether Leibson's accident was caused by a failed sensor or control panel, Dr. Kadiyala testified that The TJX Companies would not have been able to identify the problem using the daily checklist. (Id. at 84:24-85:7, 120:9-25, 134:20-135:2, 135:13-15).

         He admitted that the automatic door is not “a dangerous condition” “for the general public.” (Id. at 120:5-7). Nevertheless, Dr. Kadiyala opined that he was able to identify the existence of a hazard - the automatic sliding door closing on a patron - for a “very specific type of population going in a very specific manner.” (Id. at 116:18-24, 119:17-25, 120:23-25, 134:20-135:7). Specifically, “the foreseeable condition of use in this case is slow moving members of the public will walk at an angle predominantly with respect to the door opening.” (Id. at 135:3-6). While the door would open for slow moving patrons approaching the door at an odd angle, it could close on them as they walked through. Dr. Kadiyala was able to recreate the same result over a year after the accident - when he approached the door very slowly at an angle and put only his foot in the threshold, the door began to close on him. (Id. at 62:21-24, 70:19-24, 72:1-22, 73:1-17, 135:10-12).

         Dr. Smith, The TJX Companies' expert, agreed with Dr. Kadiyala to the extent he testified “that it takes a very, very specific set of circumstances for this [type of accident]to happen.” (Smith Dep. Doc. # 43 at 110:23-24). But Dr. Smith disagreed the door was malfunctioning. Given the over three million entrances and exits through the door with no similar accidents, he concluded that “the door [is] functioning as it should.” (Id. at 110:6-22). When asked whether “Leibson used the sliding doors in a foreseeable manner, ” Dr. Smith responded:

Based on what I saw of the video, of the whole time prior to that, no one came in or out in that manner. Now, again, I'm not a human factors expert in that situation for - for ingress and egress of a building, but nobody else in the whole video used the doors in that way, even when they came in, when her husband exited, well, he excited a little differently, but everyone else who came in, or came out went straight in, or straight out.

(Id. at 99:12-23). Also during the deposition, Dr. Smith commented on the manner in which Leibson used the door.

Q: . . . [T]he slowness of Ms. Leibson, with respect to the speed that she exited the store, and at the time right before the doors closed, when she was standing in front of [it], and she fell, is that foreseeable or not with regard to the customer?
A: I will say it this way. The way she moved was not normal. She would move, she would stop, she would move a little bit, and stop. That's not what I - that's not normal ...

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