In the height of this holiday shopping season, patrons should feel safe when they get to the store. That means there should be adequate security and lighting. Boxes should be safely stacked. Spills should be promptly cleaned up. Employees should be regularly checking the site for possible hazards to minimize the risks.
Property owners owe business invitees the highest duty of care to make sure the site is free of unreasonable hazards. However, if a patron does encounter a danger and is injured as a result, he or she will still face challenges in asserting liability and obtaining compensation. Specifically as it pertains to slip-and-fall hazards, F.S. 768.o755 spells out the stringent proof burden plaintiffs have to meet in order to prevail in an injury lawsuit against a business. In these cases, plaintiff has to show:
- The business had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition.
- The dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that, had the business been using due care, the business establishment should have known about it.
- The condition occurred with regularity and was therefore foreseeable.
Premises liability laws and standards vary from state-to-state.
In the recent case of Piotrowski v. Menard, Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit weighed an Illinois property owner liability claim stemming from a trip-and-fall accident in home improvement store parking lot.
Plaintiff and her husband were leaving a home improvement store when plaintiff tripped on a couple of small, oval-shaped pebbles that were in a vehicle pick-up/ drop-off area. She fell hard onto the concrete, suffering serious injuries to her right arm that ultimately required five hospitalizations and three surgeries in the year after the incident.
In her personal injury lawsuit, she alleged the store was negligent in maintaining the property, resulting in the hazard that led to her fall. Specifically, she pointed to a nearby planter. About 50 feet away, there was a concrete planter that contained a small tree and a few bushes – and a pile of oval-shaped “river rocks.” The store also sold bags of these same rocks too.
The manager testified that he did occasionally have to refill the planter when it “started to look bare,” which plaintiff asserted meant the store knew the rocks were making their way into nearby walkways. The manager had also testified that children occasionally played in the planters, suggesting they may have been responsible for the rocks being distributed in the parking area. However, there had been no prior incidents of trip-and-fall injury due to the rocks, and manager testified he and employees regularly checked the site – multiple times a day – for hazards.
However, the trial court ruled – and the appellate court agreed – this was pure speculation. In order to prevail in this case, plaintiff would need to show one of the following:
- Store employees were aware of this specific hazard (those exact rocks at that exact location);
- The condition occurred with such regularity that the should have expected it;
- The condition existed for such a length of time that, in the course of exercising due care, store employees should have learned about it.
Plaintiff argued the manager’s need to constantly refill the planters should have been evidence enough that the condition occurred with regularity. However, the courts held that plaintiff had shown no direct or circumstantial evidence to indicate there was a pattern of dangerous conditions or a recurring incident that was not attended to in a reasonable period of time.
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Piotrowski v. Menard, Inc., Nov. 29, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
More Blog Entries:
Anderson v. Hilton Hotel – Attorney Fees Covered in Orlando Negligent Security Lawsuit, Nov. 14, 2016, Orlando Shopping Injury Lawyer Blog