“Mode of Operation” Approach Applicable in Injured Woman’s Premises Liability Lawsuit against Massachusetts Night Club – Sarkisian v. Concept Restaurants, Inc.

The basic concept of negligence law is that those who breach a duty of care owed to another should be held financially accountable for any resulting damages that proximately result from the breached duty. While the idea is simple, proving a particular case can sometimes be difficult. In premises liability lawsuits, for instance, there can be considerable dispute about the particular duty that the defendant owed to the injured person.

Traditionally, a premises liability plaintiff had to show that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of an unsafe condition, but this requirement has been under scrutiny from the courts in Massachusetts in recent years. In 2007, the state’s highest court adopted a “mode of operation” approach in certain cases, under which the notice requirement may be satisfied if the injury complained of was attributable to an unsafe condition that was reasonably foreseeable, given the mode of operation chosen by the defendant.

In the recent case of Sarkisian v. Concept Restaurants, Inc., the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was called upon to determine whether the “mode of operation” approach applied to a slip-and-fall incident that occurred outside the context of a self-service establishment.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a woman who slipped and fell on a wet dance floor in a nightclub. The fall caused the woman to sustain two fractures to her leg, as well as severe bruising. She filed suit against the owner of the club in the Worcester Division of the District Court Department in 2010. Since the woman could not show that the club owner had actual or constructive notice of the wet dance floor, the district court granted summary judgment to the club owner. The Appeals Court affirmed, and the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave for further appellate review.

The Decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

The court reversed, holding that the mode of operation approach did apply to the woman’s premises liability lawsuit. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff (as is required on a motion for summary judgment), the court found that the club’s mode of operation included selling beverages in plastic cups, allowing patrons to hold their cups while dancing, and lighting the dance area with dim lights and flashing strobe lights. According to the court, it was reasonably foreseeable that this mode of operation could result in liquids being spilled on the dance floor and patrons being injured as a result of falls.

The court rejected the club owner’s argument that the court’s decision in favor of the woman would open the floodgates to litigation concerning any business in which people are allowed to carry drinks, limiting its ruling to situations similar to the case at bar.

To Have an Experienced Massachusetts Premises Liability Attorney Review Your Case

If you or a family member has been injured as a result of the negligence of a business or landowner, you need to speak to an attorney about your legal rights as soon as possible. The Law Firm of John C. Manoog, III is experienced in premises liability cases and will be glad to schedule an appointment to discuss your case with you. Call us today at 888-262-6664, and we will set up a time for you to come in. We have offices in Hyannis and Plymouth, and we serve injured people throughout Massachusetts. Nos Falamos Portugues!

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