Slip and Fall Accidents in Supermarkets

Slips, trips and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents. They cause 15% of all accidental deaths, and are second only to motor vehicles as a cause of fatalities. One of the most common places where these accidents occur is in supermarkets.

As supermarkets become bigger and more diverse, shoppers would be wise to know the standards for finding the supermarket owner liable for accidents that occur on their property.

A new standard was set in 2007 by a Massachusetts Appellate Court in Sheehan vs. Roche Brothers Supermarkets, Inc. Prior to this ruling, the standard in Massachusetts was that the injured shopper had to prove that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition that caused the plaintiff to slip and fall. Constructive notice occurs when the condition existed long enough that the owner should have seen it and cleaned it up.

In Sheehan, the plaintiff was walking in a supermarket in Quincy when he suffered serious injuries including a subdural hematoma, after he slipped and fell on a grape on the floor of the store. The grapes were displayed in the supermarket all packaged in individually sealed bags, easily opened by hand, to be placed in a wicker basket. The grapes were located on a tiered display table, surrounded by mats, in the produce department.

The Appellate Court rejected the "traditional approach" applied by the superior court judge and instead adopted a "mode of operation" approach to determine premises liability in grocery store slip and fall cases. This new standard holds a store owner liable if they could reasonably expect that a dangerous condition caused by a third party could take place, stemming from the owner's chosen mode of operation, and the owner neglected to take sufficient steps to forestall resulting injuries.

Therefore, a supermarket owner can now be found liable if they set up a display in the store where it is reasonably foreseeable that produce would fall and as a result a customer could slip on it. They could be liable despite the fact they did not have prior notice that the particular produce had fallen.


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