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Look Out for Falling Merchandise!

Most consumers who stroll down the aisles of a supermarket or department store take their safety for granted. If they are at all concerned, it’s about hazards on the floor, not objects falling from above. Yet, thousands of consumers are injured each year by falling merchandise in supermarkets and big box stores. Several falling merchandise cases against Walmart and Kmart have resulted in huge recoveries for injured plaintiffs, but it’s not always easy to prove the store was at fault.

Merchants have a duty to make their stores reasonably safe for customers, but that doesn’t mean they are strictly liable for any harm. An injured customer has to prove that the store was negligent, meaning that its careless manner of stocking shelves led directly to the customer’s injury. Court decisions over the last couple of decades have clarified safety standards for storeowners. Merchants must avoid practices that create unreasonable risk for customers, such as stacking cans or boxes on shelves above the head of an average person. Store management is often required to take affirmative steps to make their shelves safer, such as securing large items with straps to prevent them from shifting and providing stepladders so customers can reach items on high shelves.

Of course, store employees are not the only ones who stock merchandise. Other customers handle items, often replacing them precariously on shelves. But courts often reject the argument that another customer’s prior handling of merchandise was an intervening cause of the injury, and hold that stores must anticipate the subsequent disarray when they decide how they’re going to stock their shelves. However, notice of a hazardous condition is always a factor in premises liability cases, so a plaintiff must demonstrate that a reasonable store manager or employee would have known or should have known about the problem on the shelf — and would have had time to correct the situation.

If you or a loved one has been injured by falling merchandise, contact an experienced attorney at Rudberg Law Offices, LLC to schedule a free consultation.

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