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SPAGNOLIA v. UNITED STATES

November 27, 1984

Anne SPAGNOLIA and Augustine Spagnolia, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TELESCA

DECISION AND ORDER

TELESCA, District Judge.

 HISTORY OF THE CASE

 This case was tried by the Court without a jury on November 20 and 21, 1984. It was stipulated by the parties that the issue of liability would be tried first pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 42(b). Jurisdiction of this case is conferred upon this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b).

 THE FACTS

 The plaintiff, Anne Spagnolia, who on April 28, 1980 was 58 years of age, and married to the plaintiff, Augustine Spagnolia, slipped and fell in the customer area of the Ridgemont Plaza Post Office and as a result thereof claimed to be injured. This decision will deal only with the question of liability and therefore no attention will be given to her injuries.

 It had been raining that day and evidence revealed that as of 10:00 A.M., .34 inches of rain fell. It was necessary for Mrs. Spagnolia to walk from her parked car, approximately 60 feet, to the post office building and in so doing walked over a wet surface and possibly through some small puddles. The floor of the post office is composed of individual inlaid blocks of quarry tile, red in color, non-glazed, consisting of vitrified clay product. The plaintiff's expert, architect Martin Rose, disagreed with previous testimony that it was terrazzo tile, but rather it is a quarry tile. The architect's opinion was that this tile, although highly recommended and used for very busy pedestrian locations because of its excellent durability and ability to be kept clean, nonetheless is slippery when wet.

 The plaintiff testified that she entered the post office at about 10:00 A.M. and went to Window number 2 to purchase stamps. She then walked across the post office area to a table to address her mail, and to determine the zip code of a particular address. Unable to find the zip code in the books available, she started back towards the customer window to ask for assistance. A conversation ensued, she turned, "and my feet slipped out from underneath me straight up and I fell". No other customers were present when she fell and she didn't see any wet spots on the floor before falling. However, as she lay on the floor, she noticed that there were other footprints made by wet shoes, but no puddles of water.

 She was wearing what are commonly known as "clogs", which are shoes formed from a solid piece of wood and a partial leather covering over the forepart of the shoe. They do not have any heel support. The sole is made of a rubberized material located over the instep of the shoe and the heel is of a neolite composition. Plaintiff testified that the heel had been replaced since she purchased the shoes, but the sole had not.

 Jean Baxendale, a postal window clerk, saw the plaintiff fall. She claimed that the plaintiff twisted and "seemed to fall out of her shoes" and fell to the floor. She estimated that approximately 20 to 30 other customers had come into the building earlier that day, but that the floor was dry. Gloria DiCesare Montione was the postal window clerk who had waited on the plaintiff and sold her the stamps. She testified the floor was dry prior to the accident and if it had been wet, customarily they would notify the manager who would then mop the floor. Emmanuel Bertola, the manager of the post office, did not witness the accident but was summoned to her aid by the employees after she fell. He saw the plaintiff when she was lying on the floor and called an ambulance. The plaintiff stated to Mr. Bertola, "I slipped on your slippery floor." There was a mat located in the vestibule area (where the post office boxes were located), but no mat was located in the customer area where the plaintiff fell. He estimates that approximately 20 customers had come in that morning prior to the plaintiff entering the premises and there was no need to mop the floor because the floor was dry. Photographs were introduced showing a portable sign located in the vestibule area "Caution wet floors" which, according to Mr. Bertola, was placed out towards the entrance doors into the customer area by the maintenance people when the floors were washed. The sign was kept off to the side on this particular day because the floors had not been serviced by the maintenance people. The floors had been washed on the previous Saturday and this accident took place on Monday, a full day and a half later.

 The plaintiff brought to the Court's attention a publication of the Post Office Department "Floors Care and Maintenance" (published September, 1969) which instructs and directs post office employees concerning the maintenance of post office facilities. It states in part that "during rainy or snowy weather, give repeated attention to mopping up water tracked into entrances and lobbies. Place "Wet Floor" signs -- at entrances. Place safety matting in vestibules, lobbies, and employee entrances to avoid slipping hazards." (Part II, "Safety", page 3).

 The plaintiff was unable to state that the floor was wet prior to the accident, but did notice when she returned home that the shawl she was wearing was wet as the result of lying on the floor of the post office subsequent to her fall. And as stated previously, she recalled (while lying on the floor) seeing other footprints left on the floor by customers who had previously used it that morning. Against this claim, all three Government witnesses testified that the floor was dry on the morning of the accident.

 It is inconceivable to find that the floor of the post office was "dry" the morning of the accident as testified to by the Government's employees. I do find, however, that there were no puddles or standing accumulations of water on the floor in the area in which the plaintiff fell that morning. Clearly, the bottoms of her shoes were ...


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