Supermarket accidents injure thousands of people each year. Although normally well-maintained, supermarkets and grocery stores are still a haven for customer injuries. With thousands of people shopping each day, accidents will happen.
The Federal Food and Drug Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and a host of other government agencies regulate supermarkets. To minimize injury claims, supermarket insurance companies closely monitor their stores’ safety features. In addition, most supermarkets have regular company inspections to ensure the entire premises, including the parking lot, remain safe for employees and customers alike.
Even with strict governmental regulation, insurance company monitoring and company inspections, shoppers continue to get injured in record numbers. There are a number of causes of supermarket accidents, any one can result in mild to serious injuries.
The most common causes of injuries in supermarkets are:
- Lacerations (cuts) from damaged grocery carts
- Bunched, improperly positioned, or missing entrance and exit floor mats
- Slippery floors from leaks at produce and refrigerated sections
- Faulty entrance and exit doors
- Items falling from grocery store shelves
- Aisle obstructions from boxes, pallets, and food
- Cracked and uneven outside pavement
- Food poisoning from out-of-date products and rotten food
Duty of Care
The laws in all 50 states follow similar lines. Supermarkets have a legal obligation (duty of care) to make their premises safe from undue harm. This doesn’t mean every imaginable harm. It means harm that is reasonably foreseeable.
For example, if an employee leaves a pallet in the middle of an aisle and a customer trips over it, that’s a foreseeable harm. However, if an earthquake suddenly and unexpectedly shakes the building and merchandise falls on a customer, that’s unforeseeable.
When supermarkets fail to protect their customers from undue, foreseeable harm, they’ve breached (violated) their duty of care to the customer. As a result, the supermarket becomes liable for the customer’s damages. Damages can include the customer’s medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medicines and necessities, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
The act causing the supermarket to breach its duty of care is legally the negligent act, or the store’s negligence. A faulty door, slippery aisles, merchandise falling on a customer, and other things like them, in many cases constitute a supermarket’s negligence.
Burden of Proof
Saying a supermarket breached its duty of care is one thing. Proving it is another. The law says an injured customer has to prove (a legal burden of proof) the supermarket’s negligence caused her injuries. The supermarket doesn’t have to prove anything.
It’s up to the customer to prove negligence. That means proving the supermarket accident was foreseeable. Unless you know what you’re looking for when trying to prove negligence, you might end up with nothing.
What to do if you have a supermarket accident…
Call for the manager
If you fall and can’t get up, ask the person nearest to you to call the manager. It’s important for the manager to see the scene exactly as it was at the time you fell. For example, if you were by the produce section and fell on water pooled on the floor, having the manager see the full context of the scene is vital. This includes where you fell, the water under you, and where the water was leaking.
Store incident reports
Most supermarkets and local grocery stores require their managers to document accidents. It’s likely the manager will write a supermarket accident report. The report will include the date and time of the accident, its causes, and the customer’s contact information. Ask the manager for a copy. It’s unlikely he’ll give you one since those reports are normally for company purposes only. That’s okay. If a lawsuit becomes necessary, your attorney can subpoena it.
Ask for medical care
If you believe you’re seriously injured, ask the manager to call 911. It’s important not to overcompensate. If your injuries aren’t serious, and ultimately didn’t merit dispatch of fire and rescue or the paramedics, you may end up having to pay their costs. If you’re seriously injured, the paramedics will treat you, and if necessary take you to the local hospital emergency room.
The paramedics will write a report of your treatment, which you can use to support your injury claim. The records made at the emergency room are strong evidence linking your injury to the accident. Be sure to request copies of the paramedics’ report, your hospital admitting chart, and the doctor’s written diagnosis. You have a right to all of them.
Look for witnesses
Family or friends may make good witnesses, but independent eyewitnesses are even better. Unfortunately, many people just don’t want to “get involved,” especially if they think they have to testify at a trial or give depositions (recorded interviews by both attorneys about the accident).
Nevertheless, do your best to get the names and contact information from independent witnesses. Ask them to jot down on any piece of paper where you can reach them and what they saw. Helpful witness reports might include:
- A witness saw an employee walk right by the spill and ignore it.
- A witness saw another customer slip and almost fall.
Statements like these are highly prejudicial observations and can damage the store if it claims the accident was unforeseeable.
Use that cell phone
These days just about everyone has a cell phone with photo and video capabilities. Use your cell phone to capture the scene exactly as it is. Be sure to have the date and time stamp function engaged. You can never take too many shots.
For example, if a door hit you as you left the supermarket, video it as it opens and closes to show the mechanical problems. If the problem is with the food when you got home (for instance, you got food poisoning from meat), photograph the sell-by date with the store receipt right next to it.
Look around for store cameras. Most supermarkets have surveillance cameras in place. Ask the manager to see the portion of the video that includes your injury. For example, if you were walking down the aisle when merchandise fell on top of you, the surveillance camera may provide a unique angle. The angle may include a shot from above the shelf proving merchandise was overloaded or placed unevenly.
Ask the manager for the supermarket insurance company’s name. Large supermarket chains normally have corporate offices. It’s likely the manager will tell you he’ll submit his incident report and someone from the company will contact you. That’s fine but get the name and address of the supermarket’s corporate office anyway.
If after a couple of weeks you haven’t heard from someone at corporate headquarters, call the manager. Tell him you’re still waiting. If he doesn’t help, contact the corporate office yourself.
Smaller grocery stores may not have corporate offices. Be sure to get the owner’s contact information. Confirm with the manager that he will submit the incident report to the owner promptly. If you don’t hear from the owner or his insurance company, go back to the manager and ask again.
Medical records and bills, receipts and lost wages
Collect copies of your medical and therapy records. Also copy all your medical bills, receipts for medicines, doctor’s office parking lot fees and other related expenses. If you’ve had to miss work for doctors’ visits or therapy, have your employer verify your lost wages on company letterhead.
The majority of supermarket injuries are minor, or soft tissue injuries. Claims for minor injuries usually don’t require an attorney. If the insurance company denies your claim or their offer to settle isn’t fair, you can always use your local small claims court. In most small claims courts, you can sue for medical bills, expenses, lost wages, and your pain and suffering. The filing fee is usually around $100. Sometimes it’s well worth it.
If you do suffer serious injuries or the store’s insurance company refuses to cooperate in settling your claim, meet with a personal injury attorney to review your case. Most attorneys don’t charge any fee for an initial consultation to review the facts of your claim.
What NOT to do if you have a supermarket accident…
A supermarket accident can be deceptive. It can occur when you least expect it. A main door may hit you, or you may slip and fall on rainwater or food spillage. You may get food poisoning from rancid meat or hit by merchandise falling off the shelves. These injury-causing accidents and others like them occur every day in supermarkets and grocery stores around the country.
Your first instinct after an accident may be to get up and walk away as quickly as possible. People are often embarrassed when they suffer what might initially appear to be a self-caused accident. You may think, “It must be my fault, I slipped,” or “I should have seen those empty boxes in the aisle.” It’s understandable if you want to move on as quickly as you can. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do.
For most of us, the adrenaline rush at the time of an injury can mask its symptoms. You may feel perfectly all right just after the incident, only to discover hours later your muscles are sore, your face is swollen, or that cut on your arm is deeper than you first thought. By that time, it may be too late to link your injury to the accident at the supermarket.
If a significant amount of time elapses between the accident and your claim of injury, the supermarket’s insurance company can claim your injuries are from some other event completely unrelated to the supermarket.
Example: Waiting to Report Injury
Suzie Toolate went into the grocery store’s restroom. While there, Suzie slipped and fell on water on the floor. Instead of reporting the incident to the manager, Suzie went home, only to discover that the next morning her arm was swollen and painful.
By the time Suzie returned to report the incident, an employee, as part of his normal duties, had already mopped up the spill. The manager told Suzie he regretted her injuries, but there was no way he could legitimately file an accident claim – too much time had elapsed. In the interim, he said, Suzie could have injured her arm in any number of other ways.
This is why it’s so important to immediately report your accident to the supermarket’s manager. If the manager isn’t available, then report it to the first employee you see. It only takes a few minutes. That few minutes can mean the difference between compensation for your injuries and outright denial of an injury insurance claim against the store.
See an example of a supermarket injury demand letter here.
Slip and Fall Personal Injury Lawsuit – This case deals with a common situation where a woman slips on a puddle in the grocery store. The plaintiff argues the store owner is liable since there was no warning of a hazardous condition.
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Visitor Questions on Supermarket Accident Claims
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