Conn. SC adopts new negligence rule

John O'Brien Mar. 26, 2007, 1:06pm


HARTFORD, Conn. - A business should have known customers would drop food on its floor and is liable for the injuries of a woman who fell on a piece of lettuce, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently concluded.

In an opinion release Friday, the Court adopted the "mode of operation" rule, which will create liability even when a business did not have knowledge of a specific injury risk.

Now, the business is liable because it knows its intended mode of operation will cause a dangerous condition, like lettuce on the floor.

Justice Richard Palmer wrote the opinion, which was unanimous, in Maureen Kelly's lawsuit against Stop & Shop, which stemmed from her 1999 fall at the business' salad bar.

"On appeal, the plaintiff does not challenge the trial court's finding that the evidence was insufficient to
establish the defendant's constructive notice of the piece of lettuce on which she allegedly had slipped.
Rather, she challenges the court's determination that she was required to prove that the piece of lettuce had
been on the floor long enough to charge the defendant with constructive notice of its presence there," Palmer wrote.

"Specifically, the plaintiff maintains that the trial court improperly declined to consider her claim under the mode of operation rule, which allows a business invitee to recover for an injury sustained as a result of a dangerous condition on the premises of a business without a showing that the business had actual or constructive notice of that condition, if the condition was reasonably foreseeable and the business failed to take reasonable measures to discover and remove it.

"We conclude that we should adopt the mode of operation rule and agree with the plaintiff that she adduced sufficient evidence at trial."

According to a report in the Hartford Courant, Connecticut joined at least 22 other states in adopting the rule. Kelly's case was remanded for a new trial.

Kelly says she slipped on a slimy piece of lettuce, tore her rotator cuff and has since experienced pain. She also notes that the defendant did not have an employee present to make sure the salad-bar area remained safe.

"Under the circumstances, therefore, a fact finder reasonably could have concluded that the plaintiff had slipped and fallen due to the defendant's failure to take adequate precautions in connection with its operation of the salad bar," Palmer wrote.

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