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Maguire v. Providence – Fall-Related Injuries Spike in Holiday Shopping Season

With the holiday season in full swing, stores across Florida are packed with patrons, scrambling to pick up those few last-minutes items. Store employees are often swamped, and when hazardous floor conditions become apparent, they have less time and fewer personnel to remedy the problem. These kinds of incidents give rise to an increasing number of slip-and-fall injuries in area stores.

Not every fall will generate a lawsuit, but particularly where injuries require hospitalization, it’s worth exploring.

Although pro-business lobbyists have done a good job spinning slip-and-fall lawsuits as a byproduct of greed, the reality is, a company that invites guests onto its property for the purpose of spending money owes a duty to keep those guests safe from unreasonable harm. This means promptly addressing spills, poor lighting, debris in the aisles and other dangerous conditions.

Our West Palm Beach injury lawyers recognize these claims may sometimes involve multiple defendants because the owner of the property may not be the same as the controller of the property, though both may ultimately be held liable. However, it’s going to depend heavily on the circumstances and the intricacies of state law and local ordinance.

In the recent case of Maguire v. City of Providence, the Rhode Island Supreme Court weighed the question of whether two private companies could be liable for injuries sustained on a public sidewalk adjacent to those firms.

It’s worth noting there are a fair amount of municipalities and counties that have enacted local ordinances requiring private entities – including homeowners – to maintain portions of public sidewalk directly adjacent to property. Usually, this involves issues of snow or ice, while cracks, fissures or uneven walking surfaces are the responsibility of local government.

In this case, plaintiff was walking on a sidewalk outside a local mall when the crutch she was using slipped into a hole in the pavement, causing her to lose balance and fall on the sidewalk, suffering injuries. Plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit against both the city and the two retailers adjacent to the walkway, citing city ordinance that requires the city to repair, keep and maintain sidewalk areas in a safe condition. Further, she claimed the two retailers had a duty to see the sidewalk was kept in good repair or condition as well because it was “used as a sidewalk to further its business.” In the case of the restaurant, dining tables and chairs were placed outside on the sidewalk for customers.

Plaintiff did not allege defendants were responsible for creating the defect in the sidewalk.

Both retailers moved for summary judgment on grounds maintenance of public sidewalks were the duty of the city, and further both stated they owed no obligations as renters of the property they occupied. Landlords, not tenants, they argued, might hold some responsibility.

A justice granted these motions for summary judgment. The decision cited the fact neither entity created the dangerous condition, there was no evidence the tables/chairs were even present at the site of fall and the commercial agreements signed by retail defendants were clear on issues of liability with regard to adjacent sidewalks.

Plaintiff appealed, but the ruling was affirmed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Her claim may still proceed against the city – just not the two retailers.

If you are injured while holiday shopping in West Palm Beach, contact our offices today.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Maguire v. City of Providence, Nov. 28, 2014, Rhode Island Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Trip-And-Fall Claims Require Actual or Constructive Knowledge, Oct. 12, 2014, West Palm Beach Injury Lawyer Blog


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