Rhode Island Supreme Court shuts down appeal based on 'mode of operation' theory

By Marian Johns | Feb 21, 2017

PROVIDENCE, RI (Legal Newsline) – The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently upheld a jury’s verdict in a case involving a slip-and-fall at a West Warwick market, with the court striking down the plaintiff’s adoption of the “mode of operation” theory.

In its January ruling regarding Bates-Bridgmon v. Heong’s Market Inc., doing business as Roch’s Market, et al., the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed the verdict in favor of the defendants. The court also upheld the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. The plaintiff’s arguments for a new trial were centered around the “mode of operation” theory and claimed that the trial court should have instructed the jury regarding this theory.

Deborah Bates-Bridgmon filed suit against Heong’s after she fell at Roch’s in West Warwick in 2009. According to the suit, the plaintiff claimed she suffered injuries to her back, arm, knee, ankle and foot after slipping on a cucumber and oil that had spilled on the floor from a nearby salad bar. She alleged the market failed to maintain the property “in a reasonable and safe manner.”

The defendant asserted that there was no evidence to show any market employee had “constructive notice of the spill” with a “reasonable opportunity” to clean up the spill.

A trial in the Kent County Superior Court resulted in a jury verdict in favor of Heong’s Market, and Bates-Bridgmon’s filed a motion for a new trial. When the motion for a new trial was denied by the trial court, the plaintiff filed an appeal based on the argument that the trial court erred in not allowing a new trial and for not instructing the jury on the “mode of operations.”

During the trial, jurors were instructed on the market’s duty to keep their property in “reasonably safe condition” but jurors were not presented with instructions on the negligent mode of operation theory.

According to the appeal, the plaintiff asked the court to adopt the theory for “the adjudication of premises liability claims brought by business invitees seeking compensation for injuries arising out of a business owner’s self-service mode of operation.”

In its ruling, the Rhode Island Supreme Court stated it was “satisfied that the trial justice properly conducted the new-trial analysis,” in reference to the motion for a new trial. The court stated there is nothing to indicate “the trial justice overlooked or misconceived material and relevant evidence or was otherwise clearly wrong.”

In the court’s rejection of the plaintiff’s request to adopt the mode of operation theory in this case, it concluded that the “plaintiffs did not properly request a jury instruction on the theory of mode of operation or object to the absence of such an instruction” during the trial.

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