Proving Fault in Grocery Store Fall Claims

| Apr 22, 2021 | Injuries, Premises Liability

Slip-and-fall injuries account for about a fifth of Emergency Room visits. That’s the largest single cause of all injury and non-injury trips to the ER. Since most grocery stores have hard, concrete floors, many of these incidents happen at busy supermarkets where there are many fall hazards.

Because of the seriousness of these injuries, a Lexington personal injury attorney can usually obtain substantial compensation for these victims. This compensation typically includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. However, before victims receive their checks, there are a number of legal and practical obstacles to overcome.

Legal Responsibility

In falls and other premises liability claims, legal responsibility usually depends on the nature of the victim’s relationship with the property owner, as follows:

  • Invitee: Grocery store customers, vendors, and all other commercial visitors are invitees in Kentucky, whether or not they spend money at the store. The store has a duty of reasonable care to protect invitees from falls and other injuries. If the store let down its guard, it could be financially responsible for the aforementioned damages.

  • Licensee: If the victim had direct or indirect permission to be on the property, but there was no actual or potential benefit to the owner, the store usually has a lesser responsibility. A licensee is someone like a driver cutting across a parking lot to avoid a red light.

  • Trespasser: This unsightly term simply refers to a party crasher or another person who has no permission and whose presence doesn’t benefit the owner. Burglars are usually trespassers. Typically, the store has no duty of care at all in these situations.

On a related note, geographic responsibility is sometimes an issue in these claims, especially if the victim fell outdoors, like on the parking lot or sidewalk. Depending on the shopping center lease, the landlord is usually responsible for safety in these common areas. The same principles discussed above regarding the duty of care apply to common area falls. 

This issue sometimes comes up in indoor falls as well. Many grocery stores contain coffee shops, nail salons, and other possibly independent entities.

Knowledge of Hazard

Grocery store owners, landlords, and other property owners are only liable for fall damages if they knew about the hazard which caused the injury. Victim/plaintiffs may use direct or circumstantial evidence to provide the necessary proof.

Floor hazards, like wet spots, cause most fall injuries. Direct evidence of such hazards includes things like restroom cleaning reports, unaddressed repair estimates, or “cleanup on Aisle Ten” PA announcements. 

Most fall injury claims rely on circumstantial evidence. To evaluate this proof, most courts use the time-notice rule, which comes from 1911’s Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Company

Ms. Anjou slipped and fell on a banana peel. Witnesses said the peel was “black, flattened out and gritty,” and “every bit of it was black, there wasn’t a particle of yellow.” This testimony prompted the court to apply a color-coded analysis:

  • Black Peel: Banana peels turn black after they dry out, rot, and are physically abused, perhaps by being walked on. SInce the peel in this case was black, the court reasoned that it had been on the floor for a while, and someone should have picked it up.

  • Yellow Peel: A fresh, yellow color would indicate the peel had just fallen on the floor. The duty of care in this situation, which was discussed above, doesn’t involve immediately removing all possible hazards. Property owners have some leeway.

  • Brown Peel: If the peel is in this condition, it’s in a grey area. Victim/plaintiffs normally must introduce additional evidence to obtain maximum compensation.

In both direct and circumstantial evidence claims, victim/plaintiffs must establish actual or constructive knowledge (should have known) by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Resolving Fall Injury Cases

Once victim/plaintiffs establish duty and knowledge, these cases normally settle out of court, unless the landowner has a very solid defense, like assumption of the risk. This defense usually involves a “Caution: Wet Floor” or other warning sign. Contrary to popular myth, these signs are not get-out-of-jail-free cards. Displaying a sign is not enough. The landowner must also prove that the victim saw the sign, could read the sign, and could understand what the sign meant.

Defenses like assumption of the risk usually don’t derail injury claims. They usually just create negotiating leverage for insurance companies during settlement talks. Fortunately, a personal injury attorney is a good negotiator, as well as a good litigator. So, attorneys can usually overcome such obstacles and still obtain maximum compensation.

 

Grocery store owners are usually responsible for fall injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act. #goodelawyers