Premises liability is the legal concept that describes a property owner's responsibility to keep visitors, guests, patrons, shoppers, and others safe from hazards on the property. Grocery store slip-and-fall accidents are easily among the most common reasons why premises liability claims get filed. Most people go to the grocery store at least once a week, there are plenty of small items and liquid products on shelves that can fall over and make a mess, and the floor is slick tile, so it isn't really a surprise that grocery store slip-and-fall accidents are so prevalent.
What are you supposed to do if you slip-and-fall in a grocery store, though? Can you sue the grocery store for your injuries and damages? As with any personal injury case, the details that led up to your grocery store slip-and-fall accident are important to establish liability, i.e. who owes you compensation.
Open & Obvious Hazards in Grocery Stores
An important underlying factor in any premises liability case is whether or not the hazard that caused the accident was “open and obvious.” In other words, was the hazard in a place that the plaintiff could have easily accessed and was it a hazard that should have been readily noticed by the property owner?
Some examples of hazards that can cause a grocery store slip-and-fall accident are:
- Spilled juice, milk, soda, or other beverages
- Pooling water near vegetable stand misters
- Small debris on the ground, like a spilled box of cereal
- Water near the front door during a rainy day
- Loose plastic or packaging on the ground
- Ice on the floor near frozen food aisles or the seafood department
- Slick bathroom tiling after it was mopped by an attendant
In any of these situations, we have to ask if the hazard was “open and obvious” enough to warrant an injury claim filed against the grocery store. If you slipped or tripped and fell while shopping anywhere a customer is regularly allowed to go, then your claim probably stands a good chance of success. For example, slipping on a spill in an aisle confirms the hazard was in the open, and that it was in a location that should be regularly monitored by clerks for issues or just for customer service reasons.
On the other hand, if you slipped and fell while entering a backroom marked for employees only, then your case could be jeopardized. A hazard there would not be in the open, and the store might have already warned employees about the hazard to protect the only people who should reasonably be near it.
The Flipside of Open & Obvious
Watch out when using the “open and obvious” rule in your grocery store slip-and-fall claim. Some insurance defense companies will try to use it against you by arguing that if the hazard was so “open and obvious,” then why didn't you see and avoid it? This tactic is often used when an insurer knows that they cannot win the case, but they might still have a chance to reduce the grocery store's liability for the accident. The lower the defendant's liability, the fewer monetary awards they have to pay the plaintiff.
What Do You Do If Injured in a Grocery Store?
A few quick things to do after a grocery store slip-and-fall accident are:
- Notify a nearby employee of your accident right away. If you are seriously injured, then you should call 911 if able, or instruct the associate to do it.
- Capture the scene of your accident as much as possible by using the camera app on your smartphone. Videos and photographs are both helpful to establish what happened and why.
- Give an official statement to a store manager and insist that they file an accident report. Without an accident report, the grocery store could try to deny the accident ever happened at all. However, be mindful of what is said during your statement. Keep it brief and simple to avoid complications that could muddle your claim later. Something as simple as “I slipped on juice on aisle 12” should suffice for now.
- See a doctor once you are ready to leave the store, assuming you have not been provided ambulatory care already. You will want a same-day medical record showing your injuries.
- Call an attorney to get your premises liability claim started. Local lawyers will be familiar with grocery stores in your area and the insurance companies that likely represent them during claims, so it is advised you choose a personable, local firm over a corporate firm.