Supermarkets are extremely high-traffic businesses. Pretty much every Kentuckian goes to a grocery store at least once a week. Falls account for most of the injury liability claims at these establishments. So, it’s not surprising that the grocery store industry spends more than $450 million per year to settle such claims.
These victims often sustain serious physical and emotional injuries. The physical injuries usually include broken bones and head injuries. Emotionally, once people fall, they are often so afraid of a repeat fall that they essentially become recluses. Ironically, the inactivity weakens their muscles and increases the risk for another fall.
Substantial compensation is usually available in these cases, mostly because the injuries are so serious. However, the insurance company does not simply give this compensation away to anyone who asks. Instead, a Lexington personal injury lawyer must investigate the matter and build a solid, evidence-based claim. When these things happen, the insurance company usually settles out of court.
Overall Legal Issues
In general, property owners usually have a legal responsibility to keep their developed or undeveloped property reasonably safe. The extent of the responsibility typically hinges on the relationship between the victim and owner, as follows:
- Invitee: All grocery store employees, and most grocery store patrons, are invitees. These individuals have specific permission (a work schedule) or general permission (an “open” sign) to be on the premises. Furthermore, their presence benefits the owner. As a result, the owner usually has a duty of reasonable care. That’s one of the highest levels of responsibility in Kentucky law.
- Licensee: Individuals like children who cut across grocery store parking lots on their way home from school are normally licensees. They have general permission to be on the premises, as long as they aren’t doing anything illegal. But, their presence doesn’t benefit the owner. Therefore, owners have a lower duty in these situations.
- Trespasser: Usually, if there was no permission and no benefit, there is also no duty. However, speaking of children, a few legal doctrines, such as the attractive nuisance rule and the frequent trespasser rule, protect some child trespassers in some situations.
Additionally, the victim/plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that the owner knew, or should have known, about the fall-inducing hazard. THis proof may be direct or circumstantial.
Direct proof of actual knowledge could be a restroom cleaning report or a customer complaint about a fall hazard. Lawyers usually find such nuggets of evidence during a lawsuit’s discovery process. Insurance company lawyers normally hide such “smoking guns” as long as possible. Therefore, if a fall claim settles too quickly, the best evidence, and therefore maximum compensation, might be unavailable.
Circumstantial evidence usually involves the time-notice rule. Think about a piece of lettuce on the floor. If the lettuce was wet and crisp, it probably just fell on the floor. So, no liability attaches. However, if the lettuce was dry and wilted, as if it had been on the floor for some time, a grocery store employee should have picked it up.
Usually, landowners are usually only responsible for injuries on property they control. Typically, this issue is rather clear-cut if a victim falls inside a store. The grocery store usually has exclusive control over the entire inside area.
However, many grocery stores have inside side businesses, like fast food restaurants, optometrists, or nail salons. Depending on the agreement between the business and grocery store, the supermarket might or might not be responsible for such falls.
Debris on the floor, which could be trash, like the aforementioned piece of lettuce, or a spill, are the leading causes of interior grocery store falls.
In the winter, black ice is one of the leading causes of outdoor grocery store falls. This translucent nice is very difficult to see, especially at night. Furthermore, this thin ice is much more slippery than white ice.
The duty of care applies to natural hazards, like rain puddles and black ice patches, as well as man-made accidental hazards.
Property control is often an issue in outdoor fall claim cases. Usually, the supermarket has control over common areas and parking areas directly adjacent to the store. The mini-mall or other landlord usually has control over other common areas. That’s also true of other mini-mall retailers, like flower shops and donut shops.
Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions. #goodelawyers