The Commonwealth’s Appeals Court recently reversed and remanded a personal injury lawsuit originally dismissed by summary judgment in favor of the business. In Belanger vs. Boys in Berries, LLC (15-P-1263), the injured customer fell when she tripped on a large octagonal cardboard box and pallet at the end of the checkout counter. The box was visible from the checkout line, but the pallet underneath was hidden from view. Testimony during trial revealed the injured customer commented on the shape of the box. After the customer paid for her items, she caught her right foot on the corner of the pallet, seeing it only seconds before contact. She fell down, injuring her hip and shoulder. Even though the box had arrows to help warn about the pallet, the warnings were obscured from the sightline of anyone standing in the checkout line. There was a large crate of melons near the pallet and box, but there wasn’t any debris on the floor, nor was there poor lighting.
Property owners must maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition. They must consider the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden to avoid the risk. If there are unreasonable dangers, the property owner must warn any visitors of those dangers if they are aware or should have been aware that they exist. The exception to this is if the danger itself was open and obvious. The appellate court, in its analysis, pointed out that the pallet use itself wasn’t necessarily unreasonably dangerous, but its placement could be. The court looked at Massachusetts case law regarding whether a landlord is liable for the negligent placement of an obstruction in a common area. The court felt a reasonable jury could have found that the store created an unsafe condition by placing a box on top of a pallet in the path from the checkout line to the exit.
The appellate court also felt that the evidence at trial presented a legitimate question of whether the pallet fell under the case law exception as an open and obvious danger that did not require a warning. The court felt there was a possibility that a reasonable jury could find that the box wasn’t really visible until a customer turned to exit the store, so it was not an open and obvious danger. Since the evidence available to the jury presented genuine questions of fact, the Appeals Court felt that the evidence was just strong enough to survive summary judgment. The ruling in favor of the defendant store was reversed, and the case was remanded.
The Massachusetts premises liability attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan know how life-changing a serious injury can be and will work tirelessly to try to maximize all available damages. For a free, confidential consultation, call our office at 508.822.6600 to speak to one of our lawyers about the options available for your case.
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