On April 22, 2011, not long before she planned to marry, Amber Morris walked into a Costco in St. Louis where a puddle was waiting. In the store, Morris slipped and hit her right knee so hard on the floor that she dislocated her kneecap. Her fiancé helped her up and took a photo of the slick of rotisserie chicken grease coating the floor where she’d fallen. Two weeks later, Morris went in for emergency surgery and never came out. A blood clot in her heart killed her at age 39. Her burial took place on what was to have been her wedding day.
Morris’s parents filed a wrongful death suit against Costco Wholesale Corp. and hired a St. Louis law firm that called itself the “winningest” on billboard ads. That firm recruited an expert witness named Russell Kendzior, a former flooring salesman from Texas who over the past quarter century has been retained in more than 1,000 lawsuits and styles himself as America’s most prominent floor safety advocate. Kendzior was prepared to argue not only that the chicken grease was evidence of negligence but also that the store’s flooring was inherently dangerous. In 2015, Costco, which declined to comment for this story, settled for an undisclosed sum, according to Kendzior.