Stores are required to use reasonable care in maintaining their premises in a reasonably safe condition. If a customer is injured while shopping in a store, the store is not instantaneously liable for the injuries suffered. An injured customer must show the store either created the dangerous condition, or had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition. Florida premises liability can be a complicated area of law where it may be a boon to retain an attorney to guide you through the process of filing suit. The Third District Court of Appeal recently weighed in on whether this question should be considered by a jury. The customer was shopping at a chain hardware store when a large metal object fell off an upper aisle shelf and struck him. The customer was speaking to a store employee when the incident occurred. He relayed that he did not see the object before it fell or after it fell, but noticed it falling from his peripheral vision. The employee he was speaking to showed him a trailer hitch, explaining that that was what hit his knee.
The store later asserted that heavy objects like hitches were only stored on lower shelves. The injured testified he witnessed hitches that were stored on the top shelf eight or nine feet above the ground. The injured customer eventually filed suit against the store for negligence and negligent mode of operation. The store chain moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no evidence the store had any knowledge of the alleged dangerous condition. The store stated nothing was offered by the injured to show where the hitch was located at the time of the accident, that it was the store that created this condition, and that it was physically impossible for the accident to have occurred as described by the injured. While the court disagreed with the characterization that the incident was “impossible”, it found there was no genuine issue of material fact. The injured customer appealed.
The court noted that the evidence is to be viewed in a light most favorable to the appellant, and the appellant had previously offered that he saw the object fall from above, there were other employees stocking shelves at the time he was in the aisle, that a store employee identified the object from the hitch, and that he saw the hitch located on an upper shelf several feet above the ground. The appellate court found there was a genuine question for a jury to decide as to whether the store had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition.