Slip and Fall Claims and the Mode of Operation Rule

Chances are you’ve been to the grocery and seen grapes, lettuce leaves, green beans, etc. on the floor of the produce aisle. These stray fruits and vegetables are the result of customers who serve themselves from the open displays and represent a hazard to shoppers. Recognizing trends in premises liability and the nature of self-service establishments, Massachusetts adopted the mode of operation rule in the case of Sheehan v. Roche Brothers Supermarkets, Inc., 448 Mass. 780 (2007). The rule is extremely important for people injured in slip and fall accidents at a self-service store. Self-service stores are supermarkets, cafeterias and other businesses where the consumer selects the merchandise or food from displays as opposed to an employee getting the product for the customer.

The mode of operation approach allows a customer injured as a result of a condition that foreseeably developed from the way a store is operated to recover compensation without establishing that the store had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition. For example, if a restaurant has a self-service salad bar, it is foreseeable that customers may drop food on the floor. If this is occurring and the restaurant does not take reasonable measures to prevent or remedy the resulting dangerous condition then the restaurant is liable for the injuries suffered by a customer that falls due to food on the floor.

The rule replaces the prior standard that required proof that an operator of a self-service establishment had actual or constructive notice of the item that caused the person to fall. This standard required the injured person to establish that the item had been present long enough that the operator should have discovered and remedied the condition, a fact that was extremely difficult to prove. The mode of operation rule allows many more injured customers to rightfully recover compensation in slip and fall accidents and should make shopping a bit safer.