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Mode of Operation for Premises Liability

wet floorIn a decision issued on May 12, 2014, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a man injured as a result of a slip and fall at Walgreens could not recover for the injuries he sustained.  The Plaintiff, Alejandro Curet, went to the Defendant Walgreens in Roxbury in order to pick up a medication.  While he was walking through the store with the aid of crutches, he went down the aisle containing hand lotions and creams.  While he was halfway through the aisle, he slipped and fell on a substance he alleged was lotion.  The Plaintiff brought suit against the Defendant claiming negligence in allowing a substance to be on the floor for an unreasonable amount of time.  The existence of a substance on the floor, according to the Plaintiff, constituted an unreasonable defect that caused or significantly contributed to his injuries.

While there was no evidence that there was cream or lotion on the floor at the time of the Plaintiff’s fall, the court noted that the Plaintiff could not point to any evidence that the Defendant organization knew the cream was there, had reason to know it would be there, or even a reasonable opportunity to discover its presence.  In response, the Plaintiff relied on the theory “mode of operation.”  Prior to 2007, when it came to the liability of a store owner for a slip and fall, liability would attach only where the owner had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.  With the landmark decision of Sheehan v. Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Inc., the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that a Plaintiff’s burden to prove notice of a dangerous condition could be satisfied if they are able to establish that the injury was attributable to a reasonably foreseeable dangerous condition that is related to the owner’s mode of operation.

Put another way, if a business operation leads to a foreseeable risk of injury and the plaintiff’s injury was caused by an accident within that zone of risk, the plaintiff may recover.  In the Sheehan case, an individual slipped and fell on a grape in a super market and brought a claim predicated in negligence against the store.  The lower court dismissed the case due to the fact that that the Plaintiff failed to show that the grocery store had notice of the grapes on the floor.  The Supreme Judicial Court reversed and held that the Defendant had notice of the inherent risks associated with its chosen mode of operation (i.e. food on the floor).

In Mr. Curet’s case, the Court distinguished the matter from the Sheehan case.  The Court held, “where the presence of grapes on the floor was a reasonably foreseeable dangerous consequence of the grocery store’s self-service mode of operation, here there was simply no evidence that the presence of any cream on the floor was in any way connected to Walgreens’s self-service mode of operation.”  As such, the Plaintiff’s claim was dismissed.

To read more on this case, please read Alejandro Curet v. Walgreens Company, which was decided on May 12, 2014 by the Supreme Judicial Court.  You can access this case on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ website by clicking here and searching for unpublished decisions.  Please check out the portion of our site dedicated to premises liability and slip and fall accidents. If you or a family member have been injured on the property of another, our office can help you pursue your claim. To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.