by Scott Blumenshine
A grocery store is legally responsible to keep its property safe for shoppers. But just because a person falls and injures themselves at the store, the store is not automatically responsible. Proof of negligence or fault must be established.
A store is like any other property owner, and a store must take “reasonable” steps to keep its property free from hazards that may injure invited guests. The key word is “reasonable.” Under the law, reasonable is what the average prudent store would do under similar circumstances. Figure that one out. We lawyers and judges wrestle with these concepts every day.
Just know that a store is not an insurer of safety. It does need to make superhuman efforts to guard against all injuries. It need only take reasonable steps. For example, if some hapless shopper dropped some grapes on the floor and you slipped and fell on the grape one minute later, the store is probably not liable. The store could not reasonably have known of the grape on the floor in that short a period of time.
A store’s responsibility is to keep its floors free of fall hazards, and to maintain the store so as not to create a foreseeably dangerous condition. Store owners, through their managers and employees, must remove objects from the aisles, such as fallen produce, liquids or advertising displays that have fallen. Also, the store cannot create a dangerous condition. When a store has creates a dangerous condition or has notice that a dangerous condition exists, it must either fix the condition or warn customers about its existence in order to prevent injuries. If it does not keep its property safe, it is legally liable for a customer’s injuries.
The typical store injury case is caused by debris on the floor. There may be condensation on the aisle of the frozen food section caused by frequent opening and closing of the door and melting of ice. A puddle of water may be on the floor in the produce section after the fruits and vegetables have been sprayed. A shopper may accidentally have dropped a food item on the floor. A tattered or buckled mat may be in your path.
In order to recover compensation for your injuries, it must be proven that the store was “negligent.” Negligence is basically carelessness or not being safe.
The law says a claimant must prove that:
How to Prove the Store was “Negligent”
Showing that the store either knew or should have known about the dangerous condition is generally the most difficult element to prove. If surveillance tapes of the area and the incident exist, they may be valuable in showing how much time passed between the time the dangerous condition was created and your injury.
In one case I handled, the store surveillance camera showed the check out employee moving a floor mat with his foot into the customer path of travel. The employee kicked the floor mat to the side in order to accommodate their own comfort. Unfortunately, our elderly and infirm client stumbled over the mat and sustained a knee injury.
If no video exists, the testimony of other shoppers or employees may establish the store’s notice of the condition. Also, store records may show maintenance, clean up, and inspection procedures. A good attorney will search high and low for facts to support your case.
One woman who broke her kneecap when she fell after slipping in a puddle of liquid soap at Costco won her case when she was able to prove that several Costco employees had walked by the spill and ignored it. This verified that Costco knew about the dangerous condition, through the conduct of its employees, had time to take action, but failed to warn about it or clean it up.
In some cases, a person is injured when they slip on some food item that is dropped on the surface by a customer. Unless the attorney can show that the grocery store employees knew or should have known of the food item on the floor, the store is not liable because the law requires the store owner to be on notice of the dangerous condition and had an opportunity to clean it up.
Responsibility of Shoppers
If a shopper is aware of a dangerous condition and chooses to ignore the warning, or a dangerous condition is open and obvious, the store may not be liable for the injury. For example, if a liquid spill is large, the law says that a shopper should notice it and not walk through it. Or, if a shopper chooses to ignore a “wet floor” warning sign, and slips onto the wet floor, the store will not be liable for the injury. The shopper was warned about the dangerous condition and chose to ignore the warning.
If you were injured due to a slip and fall or other incident at a grocery store, please contact us at the Law Offices of Meyer & Blumenshine for a free consultation. We will review all the circumstances of your case and decide together the best way to proceed. The law requires you to bring your claim with a certain period of time after you were injured. If you miss the deadline, you lose forever your right to file a suit to recover for your damages.