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Keeping Stores and Businesses Safe: The “Mode of Operation” Doctrine

November 13, 2015 | Posted In Personal Injury/Negligence - Personal Injury

In a personal injury lawsuit where the plaintiff has suffered an injury due to negligence or unsafe conditions in a store, office or other business, the plaintiff (the injured party) has to prove that the business owner or the operation itself failed to uphold its responsibility to eliminate dangerous conditions. This proof is a multi-step requirement that often leaves the injured party and his or her attorney combing through the business practices and safety standards of the alleged at-fault party in an effort to make a case.

Proof of responsibility may be easy to demonstrate. Businesses and store owners have a duty to operate safely and keep their premises free from hazards and dangerous conditions that could cause injuries for patrons. However, part of determining negligence or breach of duty is determining whether the owner or operator had notice about the dangerous situation that caused the accident.

For example, it’s often difficult to prove that a store owner knew about a spilled liquid and had ample time to clean it up before the plaintiff slipped. In many cases, the plaintiff’s argument rests on the timeframe of the dangerous condition. For instance, how long did the liquid sit on the floor before it was cleaned up? This question and others determine whether the business really is at fault and neglectful of their responsibilities.

Mode of Operation Doctrine

The notice requirement of a personal injury case has been granted an exception (in some cases) when the business’s mode of operation is the cause of a dangerous condition or hazard. This exception is known as the “mode of operation” doctrine, which states that when a proprietor or business owner creates a dangerous condition by his business practices, the plaintiff in a personal injury case is not required to prove that the defendant knew about the specific hazard.

The New Jersey Supreme Court first introduced the concept of “mode of operation” in relation to personal injury claims in a 1966 case. In Wollerman v. Grand Union Store, the plaintiff stepped on a loose string bean on the floor of Grand Union store and slipped, suffering injuries from the fall. The store’s policy allowed customers to grab beans from open bins and fill their own bags.

According to the Supreme Court ruling on the resulting personal injury claim, “greens…sold from open bins on a self-service basis creates the likelihood that some will fall or be dropped to the floor,” which puts patrons at risk for slipping and falling. The Supreme Court also stated that it makes no difference whether the risk is the result of an employee’s actions or a customer’s — dropped beans create a danger.

As such, it doesn’t matter whether the employer was aware of the particular bean on the floor because his business practices created a risky situation. Since this ruling, various versions of the “mode-of-operation” doctrine have been utilized by personal injury plaintiffs.

Know the Laws

If you have been injured due to someone’s negligent business practices, you could be able to use the mode of operation doctrine in your case. For more information, contact the New Jersey personal injury attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, today.

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