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Cart Suit Crumbles
by Ron Davis
The mystery of the errant supermarket cart that struck a customer of a New York State shopping center may never be fully explained. But at least the courts of that state have resolved the ensuing lawsuit.
The customer claims that while she was walking on a sidewalk at the shopping center, the cart suddenly rolled into her, causing an injury that required medical treatment. She said that she did not see the cart prior to the accident and that she was not looking at anything in particular at the time. Moreover, she added, she did not see anyone touching the cart before it struck her. The cart was empty at the time.
She subsequently claimed that supermarket chain Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), Inc., the owner of the cart as well as the shopping center, was liable for her injury. And she sued.
In response, A&P denied responsibility. The manager of the A&P store explained that store employees kept the carts in an enclosed, padlocked corral and that the store had not received any complaints regarding carts missing from the corral. He admitted, however, that carts were sometimes stolen or otherwise taken from the secured area. But he added that store personnel routinely retrieved the missing carts when possible.
Under New York State law, a landowner has a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition “under the existing circumstances.” In so doing, the landowner must consider the likelihood of injury to visitors and has the task of reducing risk.
Despite that burden on the landowner, anyone injured while on the owner’s property nevertheless must show that the owner “created or had actual or constructive notice of the hazardous condition which precipitated the injury.” The law also points out that any defect must be visible and apparent “and it must exist for a sufficient length of time prior to the accident to permit [the owner’s] employees to discover and remedy it.”
A New York State appellate court ruled in favor of A&P, explaining, “The injured woman has submitted absolutely no evidence that A&P created the hazardous condition or had actual notice of it. Further, other than her speculation to the contrary, there is no evidence of how long the cart was out of the corral or that A&P’s employees had time to retrieve it.” (Zuk v. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc., 799 N.Y.S.2d 504)
Decision: August 2005
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