By Barbara M. Callahan, Esq.
Thanksgiving week is upon us and with every one making an extra grocery shopping trip or two, it brings to mind the relatively recent update to Massachusetts law with regards to slip and fall accidents in produce and other “self-service” areas of the grocery store.
Almost all grocery stores have self-service areas where customers can sort through and choose their own food items, the produce section being the most obvious example. When produce falls to the floor, it creates an unsafe condition and a slipping hazard. Serious injuries may result from such slip and falls. Prior to 2007, if a store customer slipped and fell on a food item which had fallen to the floor, that customer would be required to prove that the grocery store either caused the food item to be on the floor or to have actually known that the food item was on the floor or that the food item was on the floor for so long that the grocery store should have been aware of the unsafe condition. This was a trying, but not impossible, standard for injured customers to meet.
In 2007, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided Sheehan v. Roche Brothers Supermarkets, Inc., 448 Mass. 780, 791 (2007). That case involved a gentleman who was slipped and fell on a grape in the produce department, sustaining serious injuries. The lower court sided with the grocery store, saying the customer could not prove that the store had actual or constructive knowledge of the grape on the floor. The Supreme Judicial Court sided with the injured customer and adopted the “mode of operation” theory of liability against the grocery store. It held that if an unsafe condition was reasonably foreseeable and resulted from an owner’s self-service business or mode of operation, and the customer slips as a result of the unsafe condition, the customer will meet the burden of proving the notice requirement described above. Sheehan v. Roche Brothers Supermarkets, Inc., 448 Mass. 780, 791 (2007). In other words, if an item falls to the floor in a department of the grocery store such as the produce department, the grocery store is already put on notice that items might fall to the floor, creating an unsafe slipping hazard. If a customer then slips on such fallen items, the grocery store is now liable regardless of the amount of time that the fallen item has been on the ground. Therefore, this new standard makes it easier for injured customers to prove their cases against such stores.
If you have suffered a slip and fall injury in a grocery store or supermarket, the attorneys in the Tort Department at Keches Law Group would be happy to discuss your situation with you as we have been very successful in representing our injured clients in such matters.