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Do I have a Massachusetts Slip & Fall Case?

Massachusetts slip & fall law changed dramatically in 2007 and it's evolved further since. Slip and Fall cases are premises liability cases in which the plaintiff was injured by slipping and falling on something on the premises. The classic example is slipping on a grape in a supermarket, but slipping on just about anything could amount to a cause of action in a premises liability case.

In April 2007, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the case of Sheehan v. Roche Brothers Supermarkets, Inc. and in that classic example - an individual slipping and falling on a grape - the court departed from the traditional approach and adopted the "Mode of Operation" approach to premises liability.

The basic facts of the case will help you understand how the law would apply to your case. In the Sheehan case, Francis Sheehan entered the Roche Brothers supermarket in Quincy, Mass. While walking through the store, he slipped and fell in the front of the store, near the customer service counter. He was severely injured. He suffered a subdural hematoma and was hospitalized for a month, after which he spent three weeks in a rehabilitation facility.

After falling, he testified he saw the pulp of a grape on the floor. The store manager also testified that he saw a small grape pulp with a clear liquid around it.

Understand that when this case started, the courts were still following the traditional approach. The traditional approach was based upon the shopkeeper knowing the grape was there, or that he or she should have known and should have picked up the grape--picking it up being in line with the duty ot reasonable care and failing to do so being the breach of that duty. The idea was essentially that the store can't be in all places at all times and so couldn't be expected to pick up every grape when as soon as it fell. Whether there was a duty was a question of law, a question for the judge. And, the judge in this case ruled in favor of Roche Brothers when the matter was brought before the court on a summary judgment motion. Francis Sheehan appealed.

In his appeal, Sheehan argued that the court should adopt the more modern approach of Mode of Operation to premises liability. The Mode of Operation approach is more adaptable to how we operate today. There are more self-service displays in stores, and store and display design is well evolved to keep the shopper's attention. Customers care less about when grapes fall on the floor than a store manager or employee and, accordingly, the law establishes a different duty of care on the retailer when such self-service displays are used.

In the Mode of Operation approach, the court must consider the nature of the defendant's business. Courts adopting this approach have concluded that where an owner's chosen mode of operation makes it reasonably foreseeable that a dangerous condition will occur, a store owner could be held liable for injuries to an invitee (customer) if the plaintiff proves that the store owner failed to take all reasonable precautions necessary to protect customers from these foreseeable dangerous conditions.

In adopting the Mode of Operation approach, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stated: "It is not always necessary for liability that the produce have been on the floor long enough for the storekeeper to have had a reasonable opportunity to have seen and removed it."

Whether you have a premises liability case depends on whether the store took reasonable precautions to protect you from dangers that were reasonably foreseeable arising from their mode of operation. Although thinking through these fundamentals will help you get a sense of your case, there is really no substitute to talking with an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney about the details. Most everybody accepts that the law has general rules and exemptions which apply to your case depending on the details. If you think you might have a case, call our office today at (866) 995-6663 and speak with a Boston Personal Injury Attorney about your case. It's free, confidential, and there's no obligation for you to proceed. If you do choose to proceed and we accept the case, you'll pay nothing out of pocket to our office. Take action and find out whether you can recover.


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