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Premises liability - Slip and fall - Plaintiff falls on substance in defendant supermarket checkout aisle - Long history of severe rheumatoid arthritis - Fall breaks up auto fusion of wrist - Sympathetic disorder and/or complex pain syndrome.

Barnstable County, MA

In this slip and fall case, the plaintiff, a customer in the defendant supermarket, contended that the defendant failed to clean up a spill of an unidentified substance on the floor of the supermarket and that the plaintiff fell and was injured as a result. The defendant asserted that it did not nor could have known that there was a substance on the floor and that the plaintiff’s damages were exaggerated and/or unrelated to the subject incident.

The plaintiff was shopping on a crowded Saturday in the summer and lines at the checkouts had backed up so the defendant’s customer service manager opened a new register and directed the plaintiff into the new line. As the plaintiff was walking over to the register line, she slipped and fell. After the plaintiff fell, she noticed a series of small spots of dark liquid near a drink cooler at the entrance to the checkout. The defendant manager admitted that she had seen people, often children, serve themselves from the cooler and sometimes spill their drinks on the floor. The plaintiff contended that, based on where she was standing at the front of the store, the defendant’s front end manager should have seen the substance on the floor and should have removed it to prevent a slip hazard. Further, the plaintiff maintained that by stationing drink coolers at the checkouts, the defendant was promoting self-service and thus, it was foreseeable that spills would occur.

When the plaintiff, who had a long standing and significant preexisting history of severe rheumatoid arthritis, fell in the store, she fell on her right wrist. The plaintiff had previously experienced an auto-fusion of the right wrist and contended that the fall broke up the auto-fusion. As a result, the plaintiff experience increased mobility in the wrist which increased her pain and developed into Reflex Sympathetic Disorder and/or complex pain syndrome. The plaintiff had seen her rheumatologist and hand specialist. He had examined the plaintiff and determined that the plaintiff had a temporary flare up of her arthritis that lasted approximately four months. The plaintiff did not call the witness because the witness’s testimony was beneficial to the defendant. However, the plaintiff did hire an expert to testify at trial that the plaintiff’s condition was caused by or severely worsened by the subject accident.

The defendant contended that it had no notice that there was any substance on the floor. The defendant also asserted that there was no indication that the plaintiff’s theory of customers self- serving from the cooler was how the substance came to be on the floor. The defendant pointed to the fact that there was no evidence that any employee knew there was a spill on the floor, especially the front end manager. Further, the defendant contended that, since the aisle had just opened, it was not likely that customers had been accessing the cooler prior to the plaintiff’s fall.

The defendant argued that it did not do anything that caused the accident. The defendant also called an expert hand surgeon who confirmed the findings of the plaintiff’s treating physicians: that the plaintiff’s preexisting condition had been temporarily exacerbated for few months, then resolved with no evidence of a loosening of the auto-fusion and no other problems besides her ongoing arthritis. The defendant called three witnesses, including the front end manager, and the store manager. All said that the spill was confined to an extremely small area and was difficult to see because it blended in with the floor tiles. The defendant’s witnesses testified that, even after the plaintiff fell and they were looking carefully at the floor, the substance was difficult to see and that it was definitely not visible when looking casually.

The jury found no negligence by the defendant.

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