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8th Circuit rejects Minnesota man’s injury case against The Home Depot

Laura Brown//June 8, 2023

A sign for The Home Depot is shown on the outside of a storefront

Michael Oien alleged that his injuries were caused when the doors at a Maplewood Home Depot prematurely closed on him. (AP file photo)

8th Circuit rejects Minnesota man’s injury case against The Home Depot

Laura Brown//June 8, 2023

A Minnesota man whose rotator cuff was torn at a home improvement store has lost his negligence and product liability action appeal. On June 2, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s granting of summary judgment to The Home Depot.

In April 2020, Michael Oien was at a Home Depot store in Maplewood to get materials for a home project. Oien and an employee started to push two flat carts full of supplies out of the store. The sliding doors automatically opened for the employee, who went out the doors first. When Oien followed the employee out, the sliding doors closed on him. Oien suffered a torn rotator cuff and other injuries that day.

Oien alleged that his injuries were caused when the doors at Home Depot — installed, manufactured, and serviced by Stanley Technology Services, LLC. – prematurely closed on him. At district court, the defendants moved for summary judgment, which the court granted. On appeal to the 8th Circuit, Oien asserted that the district court erred by not finding a breach of the standard of care, not determining there was a genuine issue of material fact about whether the doors closed prematurely, and incorrectly applying the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

“Automatic doors are something that we all encounter every day. Very, very rarely do we see them close on people,” asserted Nathaniel Weimer, who practices at Tewksbury & Kerfeld and represented Oien. “These doors are obviously intended to not close on people. And, if they do, it’s apparent on its face that something has gone wrong.”

Oien argued that Home Depot neglected to keep Oien safe by not following the safety protocols suggested by Stanley. Weimer attested that Stanley provided a safety checklist for the doors that Home Depot appeared to not implement. “There must be a reason that they are required to do these safety checks,” Weimer argued.

Ben Weston, member attorney at Lederer Weston Craig PLC, represented Home Depot. At oral argument, he argued that Oien’s case was “lacking any substantive facts or actual evidence” and asserted that Oien instead offered “assertions, arguments, suppositions, and hypotheticals.”

“There’s not even proof that the door closed prematurely,” Weston continued. During his deposition, Oien testified that he walked into the door. He did not provide any evidence that a defect or unsafe condition resulted in the doors closing prematurely.

Nor did Oien present any expert testimony supporting his claims. Oien’s counsel argued that this was not a big deal and that a member of the jury could draw conclusions without relying on an expert. “The technical workings of a door are certainly not within the common knowledge of a layperson, but a layperson can understand that automatic doors function properly,” Weimer maintained.

The 8th Circuit was not convinced, finding that Oien presented no evidence that Home Depot caused the dangerous condition or had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition. Oien did not personally, or through an expert, test the doors following the incident. Only an assistant store manager at Home Depot, and an expert retained by Home Depot, ever tested the doors. Neither found an issue causing the doors to open and close incorrectly.

Nor did the court find that that res ipsa loquitur could be applied, despite Oien’s insistence that other jurisdictions applied the doctrine to claims involving injuries resulting from automatic doors. The court declined to apply the doctrine, finding that the other cases established causation. “While an automatic sliding door does not ordinarily close while someone is passing through it, Oien produced no evidence, other than his mere assertions, that a door malfunction caused his injury,” the court wrote.

The 8th Circuit affirmed the district court’s granting of summary judgment to Home Depot.

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