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Water: Slippery When Wet
by Ron Davis
A customer who slipped and fell at a Massachusetts shopping center has only himself to blame for his resulting injuries. That in effect is what a Massachusetts court has ruled, rejecting the customer’s charge that the spot where he fell was left in an unsafe condition.
The shopping center is located in Wareham, and the customer was injured at a Stop & Shop supermarket there. He said he had gone there to shop for groceries, but slipped as he entered the store.
The weather at the time was rainy, and entrance to the store required visitors to walk through a passageway between two sets of doors before reaching the interior of the store. The customer who was injured entered the first set of doors, but said before he entered the second set, he stepped on a rug that was draped in a “U-shape” between two metal hand railings on either side of the passageway. He said the rug was wet and made a “squishing” sound when he walked on it. He added that when he stepped off the rug onto a white tile floor, he slipped and fell, injuring his right knee and left hand and wrist.
In his subsequent lawsuit, he charged that Stop & Shop failed to maintain the premises “in a reasonably safe condition” or at least should have warned customers of any danger that might arise and that is not likely to be known to them.
A Massachusetts court agreed with the injured customer and ruled in his favor. Stop & Shop appealed, contending that the injured customer did not present sufficient evidence of a breach of duty that would prove negligence.
A Massachusetts appellate court agreed with Stop & Shop’s argument, explaining, “The injured party’s evidence was insufficient to establish that his injuries were caused by a defect or other unsafe condition which [Stop & Shop] created, knew of, or should have discovered and remedied in the exercise of care. The evidence only established that the customer entered the store on a rainy day and fell as he stepped off a wet rug near the entranceway, and there is no evidence that the placement or location of the alleged rug, or the rug itself, caused the fall.
“Further,” he judges added, “he did not testify as to any visible pooling of water in the center of the rug, runoff from it, or any other fact to support his conclusory conjecture that the rug was saturated because of its ‘U-shape’ draping. He did not establish the length of time the rug in question, as opposed to other rugs in another section of the store’s entrance, had remained on the floor. Finally, he did not suggest that [Stop & Shop] or its employees created the wet condition of the rug.... Proof of negligence simply requires something more that evidence of ‘the transitory condition of premises, due to normal use in wet weather, that according to ordinary experience could not in reason have been prevented.’” (Valente v. The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, 2007 WL 273150 [Mass.App.Div.])
Decision: February 2007
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