Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What can you sue for in a personal injury case?”
A recent slip-and-fall case out of New Jersey managed to grab the attention of the state Supreme Court. The New Jersey High Court ruled unanimously on Monday that instructions to the jury in a lower court personal injury case were flawed and that this prejudiced the result, leading the Court to order a new trial.
The case involved a woman, Janice Prioleau, who slipped and fell outside the bathroom at a New Jersey KFC. The woman says when she returned home she began experiencing pain, numbness and tingling and later went to the hospital, where she received treatment for her injuries. A jury ended up awarding the woman $138,000 for the slip-and-fall.
The plaintiff based her premises liability claim on the fact that the floor outside the bathroom was greasy and slippery, something that her attorney attributed to employees tracking oil on their shoes into the restaurant. Normally, the plaintiff would need to prove that the business was aware of the dangerous condition, meaning that it had been put on notice or that it should have known, meaning that it had constructive notice. In this case, the judge instructed the jury to rely on the mode of operation rule, something that switches the burden of proof.
In New Jersey, the law recognizes something known as the mode of operation rule, which allows for the inference of negligence when a business operator’s method of doing business inherently creates a substantial risk of injury. This rule is applied to businesses that allow for self-service, where patrons often interact with potentially dangerous items without supervision. In these cases, where a customer at a grocery store slips in the produce aisle, where it’s reasonable to assume that produce may fall on the floor, the plaintiff will not need to show that the company had notice of the dangerous condition. This means that the company will be assumed to have been negligent, shifting the burden to the company to show that it had done everything it could to mitigate risk of harm.
The Supreme Court ultimately decided that the doctrine had been misapplied in the case. The fact that the restaurant uses oil when it cooks that could potentially be tracked into the restaurant doesn’t mean that the mode of operation rule applies. Instead, this plaintiff-friendly rule applies only in self-service businesses where there’s a reasonable probability that a dangerous condition could occur.
This speaks to something that many people fail to understand when it comes to personal injury cases generally, but specifically slip-and-fall cases: just because you slip or fall and get hurt does not necessarily mean that you will receive financial compensation. As with any personal injury case involving another person’s negligence, there must be proof of fault in addition to damages. If a person suffers an injury, like a hurt back or a broken leg, the damage element is taken care of. The tricky part then becomes demonstrating liability.
If you or someone you know has any questions regarding potential personal injury claims, feel free to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina for a free consultation. Call toll free at (955) 370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
About the Author
Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.
A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.
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