Crime & Courts

Man fell in puddle of pet urine and was injured at Columbia PetSmart, lawsuit says

John Monk

PetSmart, a nationwide pet store chain, keeps all kinds of food and accessories for the dogs, cats, fish, parakeets, reptiles and other critters humans love.

But, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court, at least one PetSmart store in Columbia also had something else: dangerous slippery puddles of pet urine on its floors.

That hazard is what Philippe Truesdale, 51, alleges he found while shopping at a PetSmart for dog food, according to his pending lawsuit. The lawsuit claims Truesdale “slipped on pet urine” and suffered “severe and permanent injuries” in February 2017, when he was shopping at the PetSmart located at 10136 Two Notch Road in Columbia.

Truesdale, of Camden, is seeking an unspecified amount of damages but more than $75,000. Such lawsuits, called “slip and falls,” can result in large jury verdicts or settlements. In 2017, a law clerk received a $750,000 settlement for injuries suffered in a fall down courthouse steps inside the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Columbia.

In its formal reply to Truesdale’s lawsuit, PetSmart has denied the allegation, saying that Truesdale assumed “a certain ... risk” in entering PetSmart because, in voluntarily going into the store, he should have known there might be dangerous conditions such as slippery urine puddles on the floor.

A PetSmart spokeswoman said Thursday in an email, “As a practice, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

Seven Columbia area doctors who have treated Truesdale’s injuries may testify in the case, according to court records. They are James O’Leary, Bernard Kirol, Michael Ugino, Ryan Wetzel, Karl Lozanne — all of Midlands Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery. Other doctors who may testify about Truesdale’s injuries are Beena Varughese, of the Columbia area, and Guillaume Dumont of USC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, court records say.

In court documents connected to the case, Truesdale’s attorney, Jennifer Purdy, wrote that as of April 2018, he had $29,876 in medical bills connected to his injury, for which he underwent surgery and had injuries to his right shoulder, left knee, right hip, right hand and right wrist.

On the day of the alleged incident, PetSmart’s manager told Truesdale that “she was aware the urine was there, but had not yet cleaned up the area,” Purdy wrote in court records.

“There were no cones or warning signs in that area prior to Mr. Truesdale’s fall. Additionally, throughout the store, there were numerous puddles of urine, some partially dry, and others were still wet,” Purdy added.

PetSmart was negligent in “allowing a dangerous condition to exist on the store’s premises,” and Truesdale seeks to recover his actual medical expenses and punitive damages against PetSmart, the lawsuit says.

In a pretrial hearing Thursday in federal court before U.S. Judge Cameron McGowan Currie, PetSmart attorney William James Flynn told the judge that PetSmart did not have any detailed methods written down for employees to follow when cleaning up pet urine. Employees learn how to cope with animal waste on floors through “on the job training,” Flynn said.

In the hearing, Currie ordered Flynn to produce some documents the company had not let Purdy see, but allowed him to keep others confidential, saying Purdy didn’t need to see them to get ready for trial.

A tentative trial date has been set for next March.

PetSmart is a privately held, nationwide chain. It does billions of dollars worth of business each year, has more than 26,000 employees and is headquartered in Phoenix. Unlike other stores, PetSmart allows customers to bring leashed pets into the store.

The chain store has faced other lawsuits alleging injuries from falls caused by slippery floors with urine or other pet waste on them, according to news articles found through a quick online search.

Civil suits can be filed against another party for reasons including alleged negligence, product liability, marriage and children, money and debt and injury.

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