On the surface, grocery stores seem like a low-risk destination. Most people make their weekly or bi-weekly shopping trip to pick up fresh produce, dairy products, meat, and other items to feed their families, never thinking they could become the victim of negligence. Indeed, such trips are parts of every family’s routine. Unfortunately, regular shopping trips can prove anything but safe.
Activities that appear harmless may conceal unseen risks when basic safety standards are not followed. Even if a store attempts to keep its aisles clear and its departments safe of hazards, young children who wander away for even a moment can become distracted and quickly injure themselves. Store employees may not take into account the diminished motor skills or other impediments that older patrons may have. By failing to plan for customers who may be using a walker, cane, or wheelchair, serious risks can be created. When injuries happen, the grocery store and its employees can and should be held liable for damages.
Thomas Jefferson is famously quoted as saying, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” While we can’t be sure it was something he ever said, and he was talking about tyranny rather than customer service, it is a principle that applies well to the responsibilities of retailers.
Contrary to what is commonly thought, a Rhode Island grocery store or other retailer is not automatically held liable for damages that occur in their store. In some cases, the injuries that occur can be the customer’s own fault–for example, a customer may climb onto shelves in an ill-advised attempt to reach stored products, then fall and receive injuries.
In other instances, the injuries may not be the fault of the customer, but the store may not have had sufficient notice to remedy a dangerous situation. No store can afford to have employees constantly monitoring every aisle to mop up spills and pick up fallen produce within seconds. Customers must take responsibility for their own safety and seek to avoid spills and other hazards. However, if a dangerous condition exists for more than a few minutes, then the burden shifts. The store employees are expected under Rhode Island law to keep a reasonable awareness of the conditions in their store and become aware of potential hazards promptly. Once they are aware, they must immediately take remedial steps.
All too often, an employee will ignore a dangerous condition or assume that someone else will clean it up. In other cases, employees will see the problem and then walk off to get help or cleaning supplies, allowing an unsuspecting customer in the next aisle to wander into the zone of danger. These are the most obvious cases of negligence. Spills, fallen products, and other hazards cannot always be prevented, but they can be caught and remedied quickly.
The root of the problem
Grocery store employees try their best to do their jobs and keep customers safe. Often, however, employees do not receive adequate training in how to stay aware and remedy problems. If a jar of pickles on aisle seven falls off the shelves, it could result in slips, falls, or lacerations to unsuspecting customers. Listening for sounds of an accident and responding immediately are critical skills that must be instilled in employees from their very earliest training days. Rhode Island retail accident lawyers have successfully earned damages from stores after showing that training was inadequate or insufficient.
This lack of training can also cause additional hazards if rules for maintaining safe shelf-packing and displays are not followed. An overpacked shelf can cause risks for falling objects if a customer on an adjacent shelf accidentally nudges products to one side. Managers often push employees to keep shelves thoroughly stocked in order to increase sales and reduce the time spent stocking, but this drive for performance must not come at the expense of safety.
Proper procedures for accident response are also critical. In one prominent case, a customer was standing in line at the cashier, waiting to pay, when her feet suddenly flew out from under her. She landed on her side, breaking her hip. She had slipped on water that pooled underneath a malfunctioning soda cooler in the adjacent aisle; against the tile floor, the water was all but invisible. A manager rushed over and exclaimed, “Oh no! I’m so sorry. I saw the water and went to go tell someone to clean it up!” The proper procedure would have been for the manager to stay there to warn people while sending someone else to get cleaning supplied; had he followed the rules, the client would not have been injured. As a result of his negligence, the store was found liable for her injuries.
A dizzying array of hazards
Potential injury risks in a grocery store can come from unexpected places. Not only can overpacked shelves or liquid spills cause potential accidents, but other customers can leave an area worse than they found it. For example, an out-of-control child might knock down a display of cereal, covering the floor with boxes and creating a trip and fall risk. It is the retailer’s responsibility to maintain reasonable awareness of its customers and remedy dangers they create, lest their negligence cause significant injuries to other patrons.
There are a variety of steps that employees can fulfill to prevent trips and falls. Often, one suggestion is to adequately stock shelves but not overstock them, so the risk of falling objects is reduced. In addition, workers need to monitor the aisles searching for irresponsible behavior. The quicker the issues are realized, the less likely for substantial injuries to occur. Overall, grocery stores need to present safe business practices to ensure the safety of all patrons. Even common safety measures like non-slip mats can pose a serious hazard if they become folded or rolled up in a walkway.
While slipping on wet floors or tripping over carelessly-placed merchandise are the most commonly-known types of grocery store injuries, they are certainly not the only ones possible. Often, a display of produce or other products can be stacked in a way that causes danger from falling objects. Customers have suffered broken bones or crushed joints when heavy displays have collapsed due to poor planning. When the fallen product includes glass (such as a tall display of wine bottles), the flying shards can cause gashes and lacerations, while also creating additional, immediate slip and fall hazards.
If you’re injured while shopping at a Rhode Island grocery store, you should seek medical attention no matter how insignificant your injuries may initially seem. Small bumps and bruises can conceal more dramatic injuries that will only worsen if left untreated. Next, be careful when speaking to insurance companies or “risk management” representatives. Grocery store companies are enormous entities with detailed insurance policies. The insurance companies do not want you to litigate to seek the full amount in damages because they want to keep the financial remedies as low as possible. The final and most important thing you should do if you are injured due to negligent grocery store practices is to seek legal representation. The Law Office of Louis W. Grande has helped numerous injured customers recover damages after slip and fall accidents. Do not let insurance companies take away your right to get the help you deserve.