Maryland Court Reviews Negligence Claim Against Grocery Store for Injury Caused by Falling Jars

Grocery stores and many other businesses have a duty to take reasonable precautions against foreseeable dangers.  If a store breaches its duty, it may be held liable in a Maryland premises liability claim for an injury caused by its negligence.  In a November 5, 2019 personal injury case, the plaintiff sued a grocery store for an injury involving one of its displays.  When the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff appealed to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

The defendant’s store is marketed as a cost-effective approach to grocery shopping.  Rather than placing items on shelves for display, open shipping boxes are stacked on the floor or placed on wide shelves with other opened and unopened boxes.  Customers often take shipping boxes to use to carry their purchases, as the store does not provide bags.  The plaintiff in the case was standing in a check-out aisle of the defendant’s store, which was lined with stacked and open shipping boxes.  The plaintiff alleged that two glass jars fell from a display and smashed into the floor next to his feet.  Startled, the plaintiff jumped, causing him to twist his right leg and tear a muscle.

To assert a successful negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove the elements of duty, breach, injury, and causation.  In Maryland, businesses such as the defendant have a duty to warn customers of known hidden dangers, a duty to inspect the premises for dangers, and a duty to take reasonable precautions against foreseeable dangers.  This duty applies to dangers and unsafe conditions created by the business, as well as dangers that may be caused by the negligent acts of its employees or other customers, where the business should have anticipated the possible occurrence and results of those acts.

One of the issues on appeal was whether the defendant, as a result of the well-known practice of customers removing boxes from the display stacks, had created or allowed a dangerous condition to exist in its store.  The appeals court emphasized that a business is only required to exercise reasonable care to protect customers from an unreasonable risk that they would not be likely to perceive while exercising ordinary care for their own safety, and that was known to the business or should have been discovered by exercising reasonable care.

The court reasoned that it was difficult to impute knowledge to the defendant that a falling jar foreseeably could have led to the plaintiff’s injuries, particularly without any evidence as to how and, more importantly, when the jar was placed there.  The court went on to explain that, under Maryland law, the defendant should not be liable simply because its business practice could potentially lead to a hazardous situation.  Rather, a business must have notice of a potentially dangerous condition and be given adequate time to correct the condition.  Finding no other errors by the lower court, the appeals court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., we understand that your personal injury claim is important and can provide the legal guidance you need.  Our Maryland premises liability attorneys represent victims of slip and fall accidents, automobile collisions, medical malpractice, and other types of negligence.  To arrange an initial consultation with one of our dedicated injury lawyers, call Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.