Massachusetts Appeals Court Overturns Summary Judgment for Shopkeeper in Trip & Fall Case

In the recent case of Belanger v. Boys in Berries, LLC, the plaintiff was patronizing a farm store owned by one of the defendants and insured by the other defendant when he tripped over a pallet on the store’s floor and fell. The plaintiff alleged in his complaint that he suffered injuries to his shoulder and hip, including painful fractures

All property owners, including shopkeepers, have a duty to keep their premises in safe, good working condition, to repair any dangerous or unsafe conditions, and to provide warnings to consumers about any known dangerous conditions that the shopkeeper has not fixed or is not able to fix. When it comes to stores that sell food, spilled food and slippery surfaces are a common issue. While there are a variety of general requirements that apply to food store owners, the level of maintenance, upkeep, and warnings that the shopkeeper must maintain is determined according to a reasonableness standard.

The defendants moved for summary judgment, which is a motion that asks a court to make a conclusive ruling on a case. In a motion for summary judgment, the moving party contends that there are no issues of material fact requiring a jury’s determination and that the court can decide the parties’ dispute as a matter of law. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

The reviewing court reversed the lower court’s entry of summary judgment, noting that there were multiple issues of material fact still in dispute, particularly when it came to determining whether the farm store owner maintained the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Two of the main factors that the appellate court underscored included determining the seriousness of the injuries that were likely to result and the level of burden that the shopkeeper would have incurred in avoiding the risk.

Applied to the case at hand, the appellate court concluded that while the farm store owner’s decision to use pallets in the store was not unreasonably dangerous, the manner and style in which the shopkeeper placed, maintained, and utilized the pallet created a potential issue of material fact. In other words, there was a chance that the jury could conclude that the shopkeeper’s use of the pallet to display other boxes, thereby obscuring the pallet from view, constituted a dangerous condition. This was especially true considering that the pallet displaying the boxes was located adjacent to the checkout counter near the store’s exit.

If you have suffered an injury as a result of a property owner’s failure to keep his or her premises in a reasonably safe condition, you may be entitled to compensation. At the Law Offices of John S. Moffa, our premises liability lawyers have provided compassionate, seasoned, and aggressive legal counsel to victims throughout Massachusetts and are ready to help you seek the justice that your family and you deserve. Our legal professionals are available for a free consultation so that you can learn more about your potential legal remedies and how we may be able to assist you. Call us at 1-800-446-4485 or contact us online to set up your appointment now.

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