Clients often ask: well I was injured on their property, aren’t they responsible? Yes. And no. Not if they did not do anything negligent. In other words, was there anything that the property owner did, or failed to do, that caused the fall? For example, if a store owner knows of a leak, allows it to continue and fails to stop the lead or warn folks of the slippery floor as a result of the lead; clearly the store owner is responsible. On the other hand, if a customer picks up a bottle, drops it and you immediately slip from the wet floor, there was nothing the storeowner could do to prevent that slip; they did not have the opportunity to warn folks or clean it up.
In a case that was heard by the United States District Court for Massachusetts this summer, the Court was faced with slightly more complicated facts. Nevertheless, the Court found against the injured plaintiff. According to the findings of the Court, a 79 year old woman was stopping at Target in Stoughton. She had some merchandise in her hand. She proceeded to walk down a flight of stairs. Ms. Hoffman testified that “she did not know why she fell” and attributed the fall to her slipping on a stair tread. Unfortunately, we surmise she did not have photographs of a defective stair tread which could have shown that the wear and tear on the stairs was known to Target. Even more unfortunately, a Target video camera seems to show that Ms. Hoffman missed the step while walking down.
Slip and Fall Expert Testimony
The Target stairway had handrails. However, Ms. Hoffman’s expert, a David Melo, examined the stairway and the handrails and determined that the handrail may have violated the Massachusetts Building Code because it was open with no balusters. Wherefore, the stairway violated 780 Mass. Code Regulations Section 1021.3 the plaintiff claimed.
Unfortunately, the Court viewed this Code violation as not applicable. That is the requirement for balusters is to prevent people, especially children, from falling “off the side of the staircase to the floor” below. Even if the Target staircase had balusters, they would not have prevented Ms. Hoffman from falling straight down the stairs. Or, as the Court noted “violation of a regulation is relevant to the question of negligence only if the risk that materialized was within the contemplation of the regulation.” The violation of this regulation was irrelevant to Ms. Hoffman’s fall; she fell “on” the staircase not “off” the staircase, the Court noted.
Negligence against Claims Adjustment Company Sedgwick Claims
Hoffman’s claims against the adjustment company retained by Target to evaluate adjust and recommend settlement to Target. Sedgwick has a reputation of finding no liability and recommending that companies offer zero. Ms. Hoffman filed a complaint against Sedgwick; however, the Court found that there was no liability – following the decision that there was no liability against Target.
This case shows that it is critical to retain an experienced personal injury attorney. We are surmising that Ms. Hoffman suffered extensive injuries and that her attorney did all he, or she, could to get past this decision. Unfortunately, with the facts what they were, Ms. Hoffman will not be compensated.