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Raised Threshold Constitutes a Defect in Slip and Fall

mallOn April 24, 2011, Jackie and Ricky Cox, a husband and wife, went to a Wal-Mart to purchase some goods.  As Mrs. Cox made her way through the entrance, she fell and sustained serious personal injuries in connection with her fall.  An uninterested witness, an observer some twelve feet away, watched the fall take place.  He testified that for an hour before the fall he had observed the door threshold rising up approximately one half inch whenever a customer or cart crossed the threshold.  The witness testified that he observed this to occur due to the fact that the threshold plate was not secured tightly to the ground.  As a result, whenever a person stepped on one side of the metal plate, the other side would rise up.  He further observed, and subsequently testified, that when Mrs. Cox stepped on the plate with one foot, her other foot caught the plate causing her to fall.  A manager for Wal-Mart denied any sort of occurrence predicated on a rising plate.

Mrs. Cox filed a complaint in her home state of Mississippi and it was ultimately removed to Federal Court.  Mrs. Cox claimed that it was negligent of the store to allow a defect to exist on the property and that such a defect was unreasonably dangerous to persons such as herself.  The Defendant store argued that the purported defect in the threshold was not unreasonably dangerous.  A lower court agreed with the defense and held that a door threshold is among those dangers which are usual and which customers normally expect to encounter on the business premises, such as thresholds, curbs and steps.  As a result, the Plaintiff’s claim was dismissed.

The Plaintiff filed an appeal in the matter which was heard by the United States Court of Appeals in the Fifth Circuit.  The Court, on appeal, held that while there are certain dangers which are usual for a customer to expect, a defect is not one of those dangers.   A defect, the court detailed, is not a condition that one would normally encounter in the normal course of operations or mode of operation of a business.   The Court reversed the prior court’s ruling and allowed the Plaintiff to proceed to litigate her case on the merits.

While the case mentioned above relied on Mississippi state law to resolve the issue, slip and falls and the law governing them differ from state to state.  Historically, Massachusetts has followed the traditional approach governing premises liability. A store owner has been required to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk.  In Massachusetts, if an object or area is rendered unreasonably safe due to a defect and a person is injured as a result, most likely there can be a recovery based on negligence.

To read more on the case mentioned above, please visit the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s website.  From here, search for Cox v. Wal-Mart, which was decided on June 10, 2014. For more information, please refer to the section on our website on slip and fall accidents. 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.