Massachusetts Court Discusses Evidence Establishing Liability in Slip and Fall Cases

Slip and fall accidents are a common cause of personal injury in Massachusetts. While a slip and fall accident can occur anywhere, some businesses, such as grocery stores and restaurants, experience a greater number of slip and fall accidents due to the increased likelihood of a by debris or liquid on the floor, causing a dangerous condition. As demonstrated in a recent Massachusetts appellate court case, regardless of where a fall occurs, a plaintiff seeking to recover damages in a slip and fall lawsuit must produce sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant could have prevented the plaintiff’s harm and, therefore, should be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. If you were injured in a slip and fall accident in Massachusetts, it is prudent to speak with an assertive Massachusetts slip and fall attorney to discuss what claims you may be able to pursue.

Facts and Procedure of the Case

It is reported that a surveillance video showed a child dropping a bottle on the floor of an aisle of the defendant’s grocery store. Approximately three minutes after the child dropped the bottle, the plaintiff fell in the same area. The plaintiff did not see anything on the floor prior to the fall, but after she fell, she observed a brown, sticky substance on the ground. The plaintiff sustained injuries to her shoulder, knee, and hip in the fall and subsequently filed a negligence claim against the defendant.

Allegedly, there was no evidence introduced at trial that the defendant had knowledge of the substance prior to the plaintiff’s fall, but its employees were trained to inspect the aisles for spills or other hazards, and if they discovered a spill how to prevent harm prior to when the spill was cleaned. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her $50,000. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in instructing the jury regarding constructive notice or mode of operation.

Proving Liability for a Slip and Fall Accident

On appeal, the court noted that the defendant failed to object to the instructions at trial, and therefore, failed to preserve the objections. The court noted, however, that the judge instructed the jury that the defendant had a duty to warn of any dangers it was aware or of which the defendant reasonably should have been aware. Thus, the court found that the jury was adequately informed regarding the issue of constructive notice.

Additionally, the court addressed the defendant’s argument that mode of operation did not apply. Mode of operation is a substitute for constructive notice that does not require a plaintiff to prove the defendant was negligent. Rather, mode of operation permits a defendant to be held liable for a plaintiff’s harm if the mode of the defendant’s operation causes a dangerous condition to arise on a regular basis, and the defendant could reasonably foresee that the condition was likely to arise and harm the plaintiff, but failed to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent the plaintiff’s harm.

The court ultimately disagreed with the defendant, stating that the plaintiff produced evidence that self-service grocery stores are at risk for liquids spilled on the floor, and that the employees were trained to detect and remedy any spills on the floor. Additionally, the defendant’s manager testified that spills regularly occurred. Thus, the court found that the trial court exercised its discretion properly in instructing the jury on mode of operation.

Confer with a Skillful Personal Injury Attorney

If you sustained damages in a slip and fall accident caused by another party’s negligence, it is prudent to confer with a skillful Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your case and what compensation you may be owed from the party that caused your harm. The experienced attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the knowledge and skills needed to help you seek the best legal result possible under the facts our your case. You can reach us via our online form or at 508-822-6600 to set up a consultation.