Gwinnett jury returns $2.3 million verdict in slip-and-fall lawsuit against Kroger

A Gwinnett County jury has returned a verdict of $2.3 million in damages in a slip-and-fall lawsuit against Kroger Co. after a judge determined Kroger destroyed and manipulated important video evidence involving an injured customer.

The lawsuit arose out of a May 2008 incident in which Craig Walters, 49, was shopping at a Kroger grocery store on Ridge Road near Douglasville. The lawsuit was filed in Gwinnett County because that's where the company's registered agent is located.

Walters slipped on crushed fruit on the floor near the deli and fell onto his back.

According to Walters' attorney, Lloyd N. Bell, Walters suffered a serious spinal cord injury from the fall, requiring surgery and the placement of multiple rods and screws to stabilize his spinal cord. His medical bills amounted to about $135,000, and he was unable to work, the lawsuit said. Walters previously had been a commercial landscaper.

Initially, lawyers for Kroger claimed the in-store video footage from the time of the accident had been taped over, and that videos are only kept for 17 days unless there is a reason to hold them longer. The store's lawyers also said the cameras did not point in the area where the accident occurred anyway, and provided sample images taken from the camera to prove it.

However, while the manager was giving a deposition at the Douglasville store, lawyers for Walters asked for a demonstration of the store's video surveillance system. The demonstration revealed the camera was centered directly on the spot where Walters fell.

“We couldn’t believe it," Bell said in a written statement. "The camera had obviously caught everything that had happened -- when the fruit fell to the floor, how long it was there, Walters slipping and falling on it -- and they deliberately erased it, lied to us, and gave us a phony sample of video footage to throw us off their trail."

Gwinnett State Court Judge Joseph C. Iannazzone sanctioned the company and issued an order finding Kroger had “spoliated” [destroyed] video evidence. The judge also determined the company was negligent and scheduled a trial on the limited issue of what damages Walters was entitled to receive.

A jury returned the $2.3 million verdict Jan. 20 at the conclusion of a three-day trial.

A representative for Kroger said the company was evaluating whether to file an appeal.

"The safety of our customers is important to Kroger," company spokesman Glynn Jenkins said.  "We are sorry that Mr. Walters had an unfortunate experience in one of our stores. However, we disagree with some of the decisions made in the recent trial and are currently evaluating our future course of action."