Summary Judgment to Cape Cod Store Was Improper in Massachusetts Woman’s Slip and Fall Suit – Bowers v. P. Wile’s, Inc.

In 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts adopted the so-called “mode of operation” approach to premises liability lawsuits. Under this doctrine, a person who is injured as a result of an allegedly dangerous condition on someone else’s property does not have to prove that the property owner had notice – either actual or constructive – of the condition if he or she is able to show that the dangerous condition was related to the landowner or business operator’s self-service mode of operation.

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently had an occasion to revisit the issue of the mode of operation approach and decide whether it applied to a case in which a woman slipped and fell on a rock outside a store.

The Facts of the Case

In the case of Bowers v. P. Wile’s, Inc., the plaintiff was a woman who was walking toward the defendant’s store on Cape Cod on an afternoon in December 2011 when she stepped on a small “river stone,” about three-quarters of an inch in size, and fell. The stone was on the inner side of the sidewalk. The weather was clear, there was no precipitation, and the ground was dry. The woman was wearing clogs.

The woman, who suffered a displaced fracture of the right hip as a result of the fall, claimed that she did not see the stone because she was looking at a birdbath in the gravel area that ran alongside the sidewalk. Apparently, it was a rather common occurrence for customers to walk through the gravel area and occasionally cause the river stones to move onto the sidewalk.

The woman filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store. The store moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion. The woman appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision to Reverse

After considering the issues, the court of appeals decided to reverse the lower court’s decision. According to the court, the trial court had been incorrect in its view that the mode of operation approach applies only in situations in which the dangerous condition results from breakage or spillage of items offered for sale. The appellate court found that there was no such limitation in the mode of operation approach. Since it was possible that the woman could be successful at trial if she could prove that the store did not use reasonable measures to prevent injuries that might result from a foreseeably dangerous condition, summary judgment should not have been granted to the store.

For Advice about Your Massachusetts Premises Liability Case

If you need to speak with an experienced premises liability lawyer in the Cape Cod area about a slip and fall or other accident that you have sustained on someone else’s property, the Law Firm of John C. Manoog, III can schedule a free initial consultation to discuss the merits of your potential cause of action. You can reach us at 888-262-6664 to schedule an appointment in either of our offices, Hyannis or Plymouth.

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