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Was there negligence when Durham man slipped at pizza restaurant?

Holding two salads, James Walker headed toward the exit of Pizza Inn on April 2, 2018. He didn’t make it. He slipped on a clear substance and fell onto the floor. 

“I saw stars, had a metallic taste in my mouth and sat for a few minutes before getting up,” Walker, 59, of Durham, wrote in an affidavit. 

His fall led to lower back inflammation and a bulging disc, Walker wrote. It eventually aggravated his pre-existing hip condition enough to require right hip replacement, he said. 

Walker, general manager of Elite Flooring, sued the Pizza Inn on North Duke Street for negligence. 

At a hearing before Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson this month, Pizza Inn’s attorney Stephanie Anderson said it would be impossible for Walker to prove the restaurant was negligent. For him to win the case, he’d have to prove that the restaurant was responsible for the liquid spill, that employees knew about it, or, at least, that they should’ve known.

“Nobody knew how long the water had been there, no one knew where it came from. Someone could have spilled water on the floor two seconds before he fell,” Anderson said.

But Walker’s attorney Lauri Klein argued that even if Pizza Inn had no knowledge of the spill, the restaurant’s cleaning protocols were shoddy enough to suggest negligence. 

“They don’t train people to look for spills. There is nothing about inspection. Hourly, two-hourly: They don’t have a policy for that,” Klein said. “They’re passing the buck off to the plaintiff.”

She took out a photo of the restaurant and pointed to a hand sanitizer dispenser near the salad bar and hot bar. Klein said it was probable hand sanitizer or food would fall on the floor throughout the day and suggested that Pizza Inn should inspect the floor more frequently. 

Klein wanted a jury to hear the case. She thought it could help decide some material facts the parties hadn’t yet agreed on: Was the floor actually wet? Did the restaurant cause the spill? Did it know the floor was wet? Was Walker injured?

But after listening to the attorneys, Hudson determined that Walker had no case against the restaurant. The case is now closed and won’t go to a jury.

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