A store’s failure to keep its premises safe from hazards could be deemed negligence warranting the imposition of damages if a customer is injured.

In an article on the demise of physical comedy, the New Yorker Magazine noted that “comedic falls” were long a staple of comedians such as Buster Keaton and Jerry Lewis. While many still consider physical comedy hilarious, a fall is nothing that you can laugh about if you fall and injure yourself while shopping at a store. Falls can result in serious and sometimes debilitating injuries. Indeed, even Jerry Lewis’s intentional and scripted comedic falls have caused him to suffer considerable permanent pain for the last 40 years.

A fall in a store caused by the negligence of the store owner can give rise to what is known as a premises liability claim for damages. In general, Massachusetts business owners must keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition for customers. Some of the more common slip (or trip) and fall hazards found on premises are:

  • Floors wet from water or liquids.
  • Uneven walking surfaces.
  • Broken or loose floor tiles.
  • Food items lying on the floor.
  • Holes in the floor or changes in the level of the floor.
  • Obstructions lying on the floor.

According to the National Safety Council, falls are one of the leading causes of unintentional injuries in the United States. Falls account for approximately 8.9 million visits to hospital emergency rooms annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention observed that 20 to 30 percent of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries including leg injuries, hip fractures, and head traumas. Indeed, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.

Older people are especially vulnerable to injuries resulting from falls. Most fractures among senior citizens are caused by falls, with the most common being fractures of the hip, spine, leg, ankle and pelvis. When senior citizens fall hard and sustain injuries, those injuries can often diminish their ability to lead active and independent lives. Moreover, the number of fall deaths among those 65 and older is four times the number of fall deaths among other age groups.

Massachusetts law

In a recent case, Curet v. Walgreens Company, the Massachusetts Appeals Court took the opportunity to explain what an injured customer must establish in order to hold a store owner liable for damages sustained in a slip (or trip) and fall accident. According to the court, the long-standing rule is that a customer must identify the hazardous condition that caused him or her to fall, prove it was present prior to his or her injury, and show that the store had either caused the hazard to be on the floor, had actual knowledge that it was on the floor or had a reasonable opportunity to discover it and remedy it.

The Curet court noted that the traditional premises liability rule has been modernized a bit to allow for the self-service manner of operation employed by many stores today. If a customer who falls can prove that an unsafe condition existed on the store’s premises which were foreseeable and resulted from the owner’s self-service “mode of operation” the customer can hold the store liable.

Seeking compensation

If you or a loved one has been injured due to the fact that a business negligently permitted a dangerous condition to exist on the premises, you should contact a Massachusetts attorney experienced in handling premises liability cases. Although fall cases are sometimes challenging to prove, an attorney can investigate the facts and then assist you in attempting to hold the store accountable for the injuries which its negligence caused you to sustain.

Keywords: premises liability, slip-and-fall accident, injury, wet floors, uneven surfaces, Massachusetts

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