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Slip and Fall Accident at a Grocery Store. Who’s Liable?

Most grocery stores are operated by owners and workers who take pride in their cleanliness and safety. They know that revenue is generated when customers trust their surroundings enough to shop there. Sometimes, of course, accidents happen. A customer may drop a jar of spaghetti sauce, or an errant grape may be trodden into a slippery mush on the floor.

It is the responsibility of the store’s employees to take care of these issues, and usually, they do; you may have noticed warning cones in the areas of spills or heard store managers asking for a “Cleanup on aisle 6!” Unfortunately, sometimes store owners or managers are not as proactive as they should be: accidents happen as the result of someone’s negligence or carelessness. These slips and falls inside or on the exterior of grocery stores can change innocent shoppers’ lives in an instant. And many of these accidents are preventable.

A few statistics:

  • 62-71 million people visit a grocery store each week in the United States.
  • The primary grocery shopper in U.S. households made an average of 1.6 shopping trips per week in 2019.
  • Kentucky has  1,734,618 households.
  • There are 368 large grocery stores in Kentucky, and many other establishments (of all sizes) that could be classified as grocery stores.
  • There are 284 employees of large grocery stores in Nelson County plus countless others who work at smaller stores that sell food items.
  • More than 8 million injuries that occur in the United States every year are caused by slip-and-fall accidents. In fact, they’re the #1 cause of expensive emergency room visits and the #1 cause of traumatic brain injuries.

Considering all of these permutations, it stands to reason that there are countless opportunities each day for grocery shoppers to trip or to slip and fall. And sadly, there is a possibility that some of those people will be badly injured.

Premise Liability Law in Kentucky

If you are injured in a store’s property (this includes the parking lot and entranceway as well as the interior of the store), you could sue under Kentucky’s premise liability law. The store owner would be considered negligent if the following conditions can be proven:

  • The store owner owes a duty to protect you by maintaining a reasonably safe environment.
  • The store owner breached this duty (did not maintain a reasonably safe environment).
  • If it hadn’t been for the store owner’s or store employees’ failure to act, you wouldn’t have been injured. In other words, their negligence was the actual cause of your injury.
  • You must prove that the store owner or employees could have reasonably foreseen that the situation was unsafe.
  • You must also prove that you suffered damages (such as injury-causing medical bills and pain and suffering).

Grocery store employees can’t predict when someone in their store is going to spill something. They are not acting negligently if you happen to fall on a patch of club soda three seconds after the bottle hit the floor.

On the other hand, if the spill was present for a while, you may have a case. If the store had an internal rule where aisles are supposed to be checked every 15 minutes and that didn’t happen, you have a strong case.

It takes a few minutes to free an employee to mop up a mess, so employees are supposed to put down warning signs or cordon off the dangerous area in the meantime.

Examples of hazards:

  • If a piece of store equipment, like a deep freeze, is leaking onto the floor, it would be presumed that the store should have known about it. They own the equipment, so they are responsible.
  • Spilled liquid of any kind or produce on the floor can cause slip and fall accidents.
  • Icy or rain-soaked pathways or entryways can catch shoppers unawares as they enter the store.
  • Sharp display hooks sometimes jut into the aisles and can cut people or hurt children.
  • Sometimes workers overload displays to the point where they lack structural integrity. These displays could easily collapse.
  • It is dangerous to place products beyond the reach of customers (like on top shelves) without providing any way to reach them.
  • Pallets can sometimes be placed where shoppers don’t notice them and are tripping hazards. According to a study by Pallet Enterprise, 51% of in-store injuries were caused by tripping on a pallet.
  • Displays that don’t come up to waist level are difficult for shoppers to notice.
  • Uneven or cracked flooring can be tripping hazards.
  • If lightbulbs have burned out, poor visibility could cause a fall.

What should you do to prevent falls?

  • Be aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to get absorbed in your list of products to buy or to stare into space mentally calculating how many people you have to feed this Thanksgiving, but always look where you are going.
  • Try to stay off your phone while you are walking around the store.
  • If you drop something or see someone else drop something, get the attention of a store employee so that the spill can be cleaned up.

What should you do if you do fall?

  • Report the accident immediately to the store manager. He or she will have to fill out an accident report.
  • Don’t try to diagnose yourself or minimize your injuries due to embarrassment. These kinds of statements could be used against you later on when you find out that you have injured your back or neck. Injuries are not always immediately apparent.
  • Take photographs on your phone of whatever caused your fall. If you need to prove what happened at a later date, these photos could be invaluable.
  • Take photos of any visible injuries you have.
  • Get the contact information of any witnesses who saw what happened and what made you fall.
  • Save the clothes and shoes you were wearing. You may need to prove that they were not a factor in your fall.
  • Stay off of social media. Do not discuss your case or post any pictures of yourself.

What if you were partially responsible for your fall?

You may have been daydreaming and not noticed a spill or a pallet on the floor before you tripped. This doesn’t necessarily destroy your case. Kentucky’s negligence system is what is known as pure comparative negligence. This means that individuals can share in the liability and still recover damages. Under section 411.182, damages are simply reduced by the percentage of fault that you are assigned

Don’t necessarily assume if you trip and fall in a grocery store that you will have to end up in court. It is true that insurance companies are traditionally loath to part with money, but you and your personal injury attorney may be able to negotiate a fair settlement that will pay for your injuries, recovery, lost income due to missed work, and pain and suffering.

If you are unable to reach a fair settlement, the slip and fall attorneys at McCoy & Sparks will be prepared to bring a lawsuit against the responsible party. Our experienced attorneys know how to use facts and the law to obtain the compensation you deserve.

To schedule a free consultation with a McCoy & Sparks PLLC lawyer, call our Bardstown office at 844-4KY-WINS or use our online intake form to get in touch.