INJURED WHILE SHOPPING IN MIAMI?
FALLING BOXES, MERCHANDISE, AND STORE DISPLAYS
A typical shopping experience can quickly turn bad if a box, storage bin, display, or other merchandise falls on a customer. While this should never happen, falling merchandise and displays at “big box” stores cause far more injuries than you might think. This often results in patrons seeking immediate medical attention and being left wondering who or what is to blame.
These injuries are usually caused by store employees improperly transporting or stacking boxes, negligently securing large displays, or piling goods too high. Many of these injuries can easily be avoided with proper training. For example, retail employees at big box stores should be trained not to overstock aisles, pile items too high upon racks or shelves, or leave items where they can reasonably be expected to fall. Employees should be trained to anticipate falling merchandise and not leave items where they can injure shoppers if they fall. Additionally, employees responsible for transporting or stocking merchandise high above customers (as often happens at home improvement stores, for example) should be trained to close both sides of an aisle, properly warn patrons, and take all reasonable safety precautions to protect shoppers.
The responsibility for properly placing items on store aisle and racks, especially when placed high above shoppers, falls equally on employees and managers alike. Both have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure items are properly and safely placed so customers are not injured from falling items.
HOW DO YOU PROVE A STORE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR A FALLING ITEM?
Shoppers injured by falling merchandise can prevail in a personal injury lawsuit under a theory known as Res Ipsa Loquitur. Under this legal doctrine, negligence can be inferred against a store simply by the fact that an injury resulted from falling merchandise. Direct evidence of negligence is not required. The law allows for this inference of negligence against the store and its employees because it is assumed that the injury could not have happened in the absence of negligence. In such a case, the jury would be given an instruction similar to this:
“If you find that ordinarily the incident or injury would not have happened without negligence and that the falling merchandise causing the injury was in the exclusive control of the defendant store at the time it caused the injury, you may infer that the defendant store was negligent unless, taking into consideration all of the evidence in the case, you find that the event was not due to any negligence on the part of the defendant.” See Fla. Jury Instruction 401.7
Therefore, in order to prevail on a theory of Res Ipsa Loquitur under Florida law, you must prove both: (1) the incident “would not have happened without negligence;” and (2) the defendant was in control of the falling merchandise. A theory of Res Ipsa Loquitur can apply in a variety of situations, including:
- Falling Boxes or Merchandise;
- Collapsing Displays;
- Escalator and Elevator Malfunction; Falling Debris; or
- Foreign Objects in Prepackaged Goods (e.g. soda or food).
PROVING A STORE CONTROLLED THE GOODS
Stores like Home Depot, Lowes, OfficeMax, Costco, Sam’s Club, Best Buy etc., which regularly store consumer goods on racks or shelves high above shoppers, are therefore responsible under Res Ipsa Loquitur when items fall for no obvious reason. The injured party need not establish the exact cause of the fall under Res Ipsa Loquitur. However, the injured party does have to prove that the injury was caused by a falling item or condition that was within the exclusive control of the store. If the injury was caused by another patron or a third party, Res Ipsa Loquitur would not apply.
Proving exclusive control is not always easy, especially when unsuspecting patrons are significantly injured. In many cases, injured patrons are correctly concerned with tending to injuries, not investigating why something fell on them. Employees and managers of large retail stores sometimes try to exploit the fact that an injured patron is unable to articulate the exact cause of an injury in order to avoid legal and financial responsibility. Because it can be nearly impossible for an injured patron to explain why a good, box or other merchandise fell, the law allows the injured patron to meet its burden of proof through the doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur.
It is always best, however, to gather as much evidence as possible to explain why an injury occurs. In the case of injuries occurring at large retail stores, this may mean visiting and documenting the scene before it is changed, requesting that store owners preserve important evidence such as surveillance video and photographs, and interviewing witnesses. An attorney should be able to assist with each of these steps if timely contacted.
WHY YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CALL AN ATTORNEY AFTER AN INJURY
When injured as a result of a falling object, box, or display, you should contact an experienced attorney as soon as you reasonably can. An attorney can help ensure that the store where you were hurt keeps important evidence, which can be critical to prevailing in a Florida personal injury case. Evidence may include the identity of witnesses, surveillance videos, scene photographs, photographs of the offending object, and store activities leading to or causing the injury. Armed with this type of evidence, your attorneys can persuasively demonstrate the negligence of store owners, managers, or employees.
WHY HIRE VINAS AND DELUCA?
We care about our clients and do all we can to make sure they recover physically and financially from their injuries. We endeavor in each case to obtain the best possible result for our clients that we can. If there is no recovery, our clients do not owe us any money for attorneys’ fees or costs. It’s that simple. Our lawyers are only compensated if we win.
CONTACT A MIAMI ATTORNEY
If you or a loved one have been injured in a Florida personal injury or wrongful death matter, please contact Viñas & DeLuca for a free and confidential consultation by calling (305) 372-3650. There is never a fee or cost to you unless our law firm can recover money for you. You can also complete our Free Case Evaluation Form or easily chat with us online, and one of our experienced Florida personal injury attorneys will contact you right away. We are here 24/7/365 to speak with you and answer your questions. If you cannot come to us, we will come to you.
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We offer our services on a contingency fee basis, which means that you do not have to worry about legal fees unless we win your case. That’s right. You get to focus all of your time, energy, and money on getting better while we handle your complex personal injury law case. You only have a limited amount of time to file a claim, so contact us today. We’re available to assist injury victims throughout Miami-Dade County.