Slip-and-fall injuries and the "mode of operation" rule

The legal background

You have read about them, you have seen news stories. Perhaps you have even witnessed one, or been involved in one. They are slip and fall injuries. But what, exactly, does such an injury look like?

"Slip and fall" can be defined as a claim or case which is premised on a person who slips (or trips) and falls. It is the type of legal lawsuit called a tort (which is a civil, as opposed to a criminal, wrong) and is based on the factual situation revolving around a property owner being negligent (failing to exercise care) in allowing the existence of a dangerous condition that causes the slip.

Court announces new rule

In order to prove that an owner is negligent, historically a person injured had to prove that the owner had notice (actual or constructive) of the dangerous condition, but did not rectify it. This changed in Connecticut in 2007, in the case of in Kelly v. Stop & Shop, where the state supreme court said the person injured could recover if the owner's "self-service mode of operation business gave rise to a foreseeable risk of injury to customers and that the plaintiff's injury was . . . caused by an accident within the zone of risk."

In other words, in the modern retail store, customers obtain items by picking them off shelves and putting them in their baskets, which increases the risk of these dropping or spilling, and consequently injuring other customers. This general risk is known by the owner, who cannot escape liability by saying that he did not have notice of the specific item lying on the floor. This doctrine has been used in many cases since 2007 by persons frequenting retail stores and being injured by substances and conditions therein, but the doctrine has its specific requirements, which any person filing a lawsuit should be aware of.

Court refines rule

In 2005, a man, who was shopping at a supermarket, stepped on a clear liquid, believed to be fruit cocktail, and slipped and fell, injuring his shoulder and knee. A few minutes prior to the fall, a store porter passed down the aisle, doing a periodic sweep, but did not see any spill. The man eventually filed a lawsuit against the store, proceeding on the "mode of operation" theory.

The jury found for the store customer. The owner appealed. The case ( Fisher v. Big Y Foods) was reversed on appeal in 2010, the court in effect saying that a modern supermarket's function is to place items on shelves for its customers to select and thus a supermarket cannot be considered negligent solely on the grounds for doing just that.

The court continued to say that there was no evidence that showed that the method of selling fruit products in packages was particularly dangerous. What this case demonstrates is that, in a slip and fall situation involving the mode of operation rule, it is not enough that an injury in caused by an item lying on the floor. One must also prove that the item was stocked or displayed in such a manner that it could be considered "dangerous."

Conclusion

If you are involved in a slip-and-fall accident in a store where you pick items off of shelves, you should immediately contact an experienced personal injury attorney, who will investigate the facts of your situation and determine whether you can file a suit under the "mode of operation" rule, in order to receive the compensation to which you are entitled.