Business owners owe to invitees a duty of reasonable or due care to provide a safe environment for doing that which is within the scope of the invitation. The duty of due care requires a business owner to discover and eliminate dangerous conditions, to maintain the premises in safe condition, and to avoid creating conditions that would render the premises unsafe.
Plaintiff sued defendant after plaintiff slipped and fell after stepping on a grape at defendant's store. Plaintiff fell inside the store, near the checkout aisles. The case went to trial, and at trial the defendant presented two employees who were working on the day of the incident. In the incident report prepared by the defendant, the employee did not include anything about the area around where the plaintiff fell. At trial, the defendant's assistant manager acknowledged that grapes sometimes fall out of bags and onto the floor. At the close of the evidence, plaintiff moved for an inference of negligence by the trial court, but the motion was denied. Instead, the court granted the defendant a no-cause verdict because plaintiff did not produce any evidence of the defendant's actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition. The appellate division affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted cert to the plaintiff's appeal.
Whether the trial court erred in granting a directed verdict for the defendant.
Yes, the trial court erred in granting a directed verdict for the defendant.
In reversing the lower courts' rulings, the state supreme court held that a mode-of-operation charge was appropriate when loose items that were reasonably likely to fall to the ground during customer or employee handling would create a dangerous condition. This applied to the checkout area of a supermarket. The state supreme court held that it was foreseeable that loose grapes would fall to the ground near the checkout area. The state supreme court held that the question of the adequacy of the store's efforts to exercise due care was one for the jury, and it was error for the trial court to have entered a directed verdict for the store.